Guard unit to return home

Published 2:57 am Wednesday, January 26, 2005

By By Adam Prestridge
Tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree; the troops are finally coming home.
After 12 months in Iraq, members from the Alabama National Guard's 711th Signal Battalion, which includes 70 troops from Atmore, returned to U.S. soil early Monday morning.
About 250 members of the 711th arrived in Fort Stewart, Ga. by airplane just before daybreak Monday. An additional 150 returned to the states on Tuesday. After their 4:40 a.m. arrival, members of Headquarters Company and Companies A and D, located in Mobile and Atmore, were allowed to visit with their families and other loved ones before out processing began.
Alabama National Guard Public Affairs Specialist Sgt. Martin Dyson said he is uncertain when the Atmore troops will return to their home base.
"That is still up in the air," he said. "What they'll do now is go into a seven to 10 day out processing period where they will return equipment, have medical screenings and also go through all their paperwork before they come off active duty. They've got to make sure everything is correct and that all T's are crossed and I's dotted. That will end the out processing. It's a flexible period. We've had some units come and are out in three or four days and we've had others that have been there a week."
Beverly Madison, who is a member of the Atmore Family Support Group, said she is also unsure of when the troops will arrive. Her husband of 10 years, Harold, is one of the troops returning home.
"We won't know anything definite until the day before they actually depart from Fort Stewart," she said. "The prognosis right this moment is Friday afternoon, but that's not a definite, that's a best guess. It's not set in stone."
Late Tuesday afternoon, Atmore Mayor Howard Shell said he spoke with another Alabama National Guard official who stated the local troops will return to Atmore around 4 p.m. on Friday.
Dyson was unable to confirm the troops Friday return because it isn't official. He did say when the troops are demobilized, it is likely the Atmore group will return directly home instead of having to report to Mobile.
"There is a good chance that the different units will be able to return to their hometown as opposed to going back to Mobile and then being released," Sgt. Dyson said. "What we've seen with other units that are broken up like that, is they'll go straight to their hometown."
The Atmore troops left for Fort Stewart on Jan. 5, 2004 for training. On Feb. 16, 2004, they left country for Babylon, Iraq. Dyson said a year is the norm for deployed troops to be stationed overseas.
"The policy was changed last year that units were to spend 12 months on the ground, in country," Sgt. Dyson said. "When I say in country, I mean in Iraq or Afghanistan, wherever they were deployed to. They actually spend 365 days in that country and then you've got your training period. Most of the deployments with Alabama Guard units have been about 15 to 16 months counting that training period before they left."
Madison, whose stepson, Jason Madison, and son-in-law, Roberto Chavez, are also serving in Iraq, is overjoyed that her husband is finally returning home. She is planning on celebrating Christmas, birthdays and their 10-year anniversary once he's back in Atmore.
"It's fantastic," Madison said. "I can't wait. I wish I was in Georgia right now."
She said she is ready for the long wait to end.
"It's been extremely long. Fortunately we had quite a bit of contact especially with him working with Signal. It helped make it bearable."
Madison said being a part of the Atmore Support Group was a blessing because the families with loved one overseas bonded and helped one another through the good times and the hard times.
"The support group has held us up all year. We've shared info with each other, we've shared joys and tears and it's been family for a year. Without the support group it would have been very tough."
Madison said Jason is expected to return to California in mid-March and stated Roberto left for Iraq this past Sunday.
Atmore business owners and residents are encouraged to decorate their storefronts and homes in celebration of the troops' homecoming as well as in support of those that are still fighting overseas.
"I want to be sure we give the troops the homecoming that they so richly deserve," Shell said. "We strongly encourage our citizens to line the streets and let them know how proud we are of the services that they have performed. We want to assist them in whatever manner we can to help them resume their lifestyles."

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