- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

As the guardsmen arrived at the armory in Manassas yesterday, Tina Addo couldn’t help but dance and scream.

“That’s my son,” she yelled as dozens of soldiers stepped off the buses and met their families whom most haven’t seen since March 2004.

About 120 members of the Virginia Army National Guard Company A, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, returned home from16 months of training and deployment in Afghanistan.

The soldiers patrolled and guarded neighborhoods, provided aid to the Afghans and at one point provided security for President Bush.

The guardsmen were among an estimated 570 soldiers from Virginia who returned from Afghanistan to Fort Bragg, N.C., July 16. All the guardsmen were expected to return to their hometown armories sometime this week.

Yesterday, the soldiers arrived at their armory next to the Prince William County Fairgrounds on Route 234 about 2 p.m. As the buses rolled into the armory, they were surrounded by family and friends waving American flags and chanting, “USA.”

Although the soldiers shared a common deployment, each had a different story about his experiences in Afghanistan.

Spc. 4th Class John Reiman of Alexandria, the father of a 9-year-old boy, said he enlisted in the Guard because he felt strongly about the cause.

“I was very upset about the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and seeing all of these young guys getting killed,” said Spc. Reiman, 38. “I hoped that I could help stop it.”

Spc. Reiman’s family did not accept his decision so well.

“We tried to talk him out of it, but he didn’t listen,” said his son, Michael. “He missed a lot of stuff we did. As soon as he gets back, I’m going to get him back and never let him leave me again.”

Spc. Reiman’s wife, Sheryl, 30, said, “It was a complete turnaround for us to hear he was deployed.”

Other families also struggled after sons, husbands and brothers left for Afghanistan in June 2004.

Florida natives Susan and Larry Yacubian talked about the uncertainty of whether their son, 1st Lt. Lawrence Yacubian, would make it home alive.

“It was hard,” Mr. Yacubian said. “The whole uncertainty thing was very hard.”

Mrs. Yacubian said those difficulties paid off yesterday. “It was a long year,” she said. “I sat here a year ago and was proud and sad, but now I’m proud and glad.”

Melissa Hibbard, 26, of Winchester, had to take care of her two young children by herself when her husband Sgt. Sean Hibbard, was deployed.

Mrs. Hibbard said she missed her husband. “My daughter always said how she wanted her daddy to come home,” she said.

The soldiers said they missed their families in Afghanistan, as they navigated minefields, dodged bullets and presented a positive image of the United States.

Spc. Reiman said it was difficult not to become bitter with some of the Afghans.

“Initially, they were all appreciative,” he said. “But then when we gave them stuff, they wanted more and more.”

Spc. Scott Campbell, 23, of Colonial Heights, said he enjoyed seeing the Afghan children because they reminded him of home.

The soldiers said their mission was both gratifying and frightening.

“The constant debate of whether or not you’re going to come home is scary,” Spc. Campbell said. “No matter what, when you’re deployed you’re always wondering if you’re ever going to see [your family] again.”

Sgt. Frank Shinault, 31, from Roanoke, said, “Not being with my son was definitely the hardest thing for me.”

The soldiers also had some positive experiences.

Spc. Reiman recalled that “a little guy named Zachy came up to my tower every day. He would entertain me with little dance and song routines.”

Spc. Ron Lyons, 35, of Lynchburg, and Sgt. Shinault said they tried different kinds of food, such as “foot-bread,” which Afghans flatten with their feet.

“You could buy 10 big slices for a dollar,” Spc. Lyons said.

Despite their different experiences, the soldiers agreed on one thing yesterday: “It’s a lot better to be here than it is there,” Spc. Campbell said.

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