ORANGEBURG COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Friday night, for the first time in more than a year, members of South Carolina's Bravest came back home.
The soldiers were the first wave of about 1,600 national guardsmen making their way back home. There were several welcome home ceremonies around the state.
WIS News 10 caught up with the soldiers in Orangeburg and in West Columbia. You can watch some of the happy reunions by clicking the video links to the right.
In Orangeburg, Jackie Albrittain and her two kids welcomed dad back into their lives. "It's really been hard for them, this year, not knowing if he's going to make it back, keep asking me questions like, 'Is dad going to be all right? Is he going to be able to come home? Is he going to come home alive?'"
For her husband Anthony, Friday is the light at the end of the tunnel - after living through the horrors of a war zone. "Not knowing whether you're going to make it home, sometimes ... and seeing some of the things that happen to fellow soldiers."
But now dad is home, and the Albrittains can be a family again. Jackie says, "Now it's time for them to get back on track, like they're supposed to. Dad is here and now the house is back in order."
Thursday, WIS News 10's Brandi Cummings spoke to an Orangeburg County family who have to wait a bit longer.
"He misses his girls and wants to get back. I miss him a lot too. It's really been hard" - hard for Margaret Hamilton to be without her husband of 17 years.
Staff Sergeant Paul Hamilton is one of hundreds of South Carolina National Guardsmen heading home. "He's coming home. Those words I can't hardly express right now because we're so excited," says Margaret.
Sergeant Hamilton has been in Afghanistan 18 months. He and the other soldiers were on a mission to train the Afghan National Army and national police.
"Me and our girls have decided when our soldier comes home, we're going to be there with lots of hugs and kisses and we're going to give daddy some time to relax," says Margaret.
The porch at the Hamilton home is patriotic. Even the back fence is decorated with cups spelling out "We Love You."
No matter when daddy gets home, first thing's first. "When he comes home, we're going to celebrate Christmas."
Mrs. Hamilton says last Christmas was especially hard on her because this is the first deployment her family has experienced.
Even Sergeant Hamilton's civilian company anxiously awaits his return, hanging yellow ribbons to show support.
He's a man with steadfast backing from his friends and the faithful love of his family. "Staff Sergeant Paul Hamilton is the love of my life and he is a very special, kind man and he loves his girls dearly."
Staff Sergeant Hamilton will leave Afghanistan this Saturday.
With so many of South Carolina's Bravest returning in the coming days and months, count on WIS News 10 to continue coverage.
There will be another wave of the 218th returning within the next seven to 10 days. The soldiers will first go to Fort Bragg for out processing. That means taking care of medical check-ups and paperwork. The process normally takes about four to five days.
By mid-May most of the 218th national guardsmen will be stateside, with the exception of about 100 who have voluntarily extended their tours.