As I stood among the crowd awaiting the arrival of the first group of the Oneonta National Guard 1166th Military Police Unit, I could not help but feel pride and joy all through the crowd of family and friends who could not wait to hug their loved ones. The unit had been deployed since October 2020.

Flags, posters, balloons, signs, and patriotic attire could be seen from every angle. Cars passing by blew their horns. Blount EMS, Oneonta Fire Department, and Oneonta Police Department were on site to help welcome the soldiers home.

Soon the sound of the sirens and the sight of headlights became visible as the escorted buses rolled down Ala 75 toward the Oneonta High School parking lot. Tears, cheers, smiles, and laughter erupted. Cameras were videoing and pictures were being shot. In the crowd were a couple of excited mothers who would be placing their newborn child in dad’s arms for the first time. It was definitely a special time for all.

The crowd exploded into a roar when the doors of the buses opened and soldiers began exiting them. After a few words from the group leader, most of the soldiers quickly found their loved ones and there were more tears, long-lasting hugs, kisses, and laughter.

Soon bags were retrieved and placed into vehicles. The soldiers were finally going home. There they will enjoy time off, sleep in their own beds, visit with more family and friends, wear civilian clothing, drive their cars and trucks, and enjoy the comforts and freedom that we as Americans often take for granted.

As the crowd began to clear, it became evident that some soldiers were still waiting for their loved ones to arrive. I felt sadness in my heart. Yes, those still waiting for rides would see their loved ones soon, but nonetheless, my heart still ached for them. I began to think of how much more meaningful it would have been if they were celebrating their arrival home along with their fellow soldiers.

As one crowd cleared, another began to arrive. The second group of the unit was just one hour behind the first. Excitement continued to fill the air. Soon a celebration just like the first would take place.