Belated New Year's Celebration for Returning Soldiers, Family - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

01/02/06

Belated New Year's Celebration for Returning Soldiers, Family

Sgt. Charles Eaves and his wife, Nikita. Sgt. Charles Eaves and his wife, Nikita.

A few hundred military families got a late start to their New Year's celebrations. They welcomed home their soldiers after a one-year deployment to Iraq this morning at Fort Stewart.

The minutes passed like hours for the families waiting in Newman Gym. Many put the holidays on hold as they've anticipated their soldiers' return home from Iraq.

"We did not celebrate Christmas," said military wife Christine Paez. "We still have all the Christmas presents under the tree."

Then there was a glimpse of the bus outside, and the entire crowd jumped to its feet when the soldiers finally entered the gym. After three songs, everyone hit the floor in a mad rush of reunions. Trina Orbison looked like she couldn't breathe while waiting. "I couldn't," she told us. "I've had one hour of sleep. I'm so excited."

"This is the greatest experience of my life," said  Sgt. Vincent Orbison. "I'm happy to be home."

"It was an honor to walk back in here and see everybody cheering us on," said 1st Sgt. Dwayne Clemons. "Its been rough."

And Sgt. Charles Eaves had no trouble finding his wife, Nikita. "There wasn't a shadow of a doubt," he told us. "I think I heard her on Highway 144."

Soldiers paused for pictures and to introduce loved ones and comrades, then all made a bee line for the door. "My nephew tells me we're going go eat and catch up on old times," said Staff Sgt. Michelle McClain.

She and others say they can't think of a better way to start the New Year.

We've now seen about 2,000 solders return to the Coastal Empire. More are expected this week and the entire division is supposed to be back by the end of February, if not sooner.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com

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