Handshakes, hugs and a few tears greeted the dozens of Covington-based National Guard troops who triumphantly returned home after a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Local leaders praised the efforts of the 131 soldiers of Bravo Company, around 40 of whom attended Sunday’s homecoming celebration, organized by Main Street Covington.
"There are no words that I can say to you or your family members to tell you how much it means to me that you did the job that was requested of you," said Newton County Chairman Kathy Morgan, as tears came to her eyes and her voice trembled. "There are no words I can say to tell you how important it is that you risk your life. There are no words I can say that can ever repay for the time away from your families, the risk you undertook, and the time you spent in the war zone.
"I just want you to know I am in your debt; Newton County is in your debt. Thank you and god bless that you are home safely … Hoorah!"
Covington Mayor Kim Carter gave 1st Sgt. Patrick Eaton a key to the city of Covington and named all of the Bravo Company troops honorary citizens of her city. The gesture was fitting for Eaton, who was a long time local resident, but is now moving to take command of a company out of Winder.
"I will miss being here. I used to run my PT (physical training) here through the town, around the square and through the old cemetery," Eaton said after the ceremony. "We always felt welcome here. We've had phenomenal support, from official folks including mayors, chairman and Sen. Douglas, but also just from the local folks who would stop by the armory to talk to the troops. That was really neat. We felt like a part of the town.
"The support they've given us is very important. We'd do what we had to regardless, but to know we were respected, loved and supported - that was great."
Eaton said that soldiers from Bravo Company will take his place and continue to make the National Guard a part of Covington.
State Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) praised the troops for their efforts but also remembered the eight Georgia National Guard troops who died on their latest mission, and the more than 170 Georgians who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars began.
"We've seen the impact of the arrival of American troops in countries around the world. As I watched you march up the street and around the square just now, I got that same warm feeling knowing that the arrival of the Americans is always cause for joy and celebration in the hearts of men and women around the world," Douglas said. "And indeed it was 66 years ago today that Americans landed on the shores of France ... how appropriate that we would welcome you home (today)."
Brig. Gen. Maria Britt, the top commander of National Guard forces in Georgia, said it was a tribute to the leadership of Bravo Company Capt. Shilo Crane that his unit completed their mission and didn't lose a single solider.
"These guys were out there training, doing on-the-job training, fighting side by side with the afghan troops. They got into some really rough firefights," Britt said. "This is a mature, dedicated group, a bunch of good ole Georgia boys. They love their country. They're all about selfless service."