More than 1,000 family members, friends and well-wishers attended a welcome home ceremony for the Delaware National Guard's 153rd Military Police Company in Delaware City on Saturday, following their nine-month deployment in Afghanistan.
Nicole McCall and her husband Roger spent most of the last year separated by more than 7,000 miles.
So she could barely contain her excitement Saturday morning, knowing he was just a few hundred feet away.
“The feeling I have in the pit of my stomach right now is indescribable,” the 32-year-old Middletown resident said as she and thousands of others gathered at the Governor Bacon Parade Field in Delaware City to welcome home the Delaware National Guard’s 153rd Military Police Company from a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan.
“The fact that this is finally the day that he’s coming home is a little overwhelming,” she said. “I just can’t wait to see him.”
Staff Sgt. Roger McCall and his fellow guardsmen spent their deployment helping to train members of the Afghan Uniform Police in the Kandahar Province, where they also protected four police stations, 46 checkpoints and a power plant.
During their tour, the unit conducted nearly 400 combat missions, went out on more than 1,000 patrols and managed to detain six high-value Taliban members, all without a single casualty or major injury, according to Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, the adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard.
“I look at all these kids – because they’re all my kids – and I stand here with tears in my eyes because I’m so happy to see them all back safely,” he said, during a nearly hour-long ceremony. “This is truly a magnificent and awesome Delaware day.”
Second Lady Jill Biden also attended Saturday’s homecoming, just as she had attended their departure.
During her remarks, she spoke about the struggles the guardsmen and their families experience while apart – feelings she said she experienced while her son Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, was deployed in Iraq from 2008 to 2009.
Three of the guardsmen with the 153rd missed their first wedding anniversaries, eight of the unit members’ missed their child’s first birthday and one celebrated their own 21st birthday, she said.
“In that year that Beau was away, I learned just how much it means when the members of the community reach out to support a family with a loved one overseas,” Biden told the troops. “I hope that you were reminded on a daily basis just how much you the country appreciates the sacrifices you and your family made to complete this mission.”
The 153rd’s most recent deployment was its third since 2001.
But New Jersey resident Joni Patterson said it never gets any easier when her son, Sgt. Matt Patterson of Smyrna, departs for a dangerous part of the world.
“You know that he’s surrounded by passionate, well-trained men and women and I’m consoled by that, but it doesn’t lessen the protective instincts of a mother,” she said. “I only have one Matt and now that he’s home I finally feel like world has color again and I can breathe.”
Patterson said one of the few things that has helped her endure her son’s deployments is the support system shared among families of the guardsmen.
“I can’t tell you how much that means,” she said. “They text us everything. Like just now, we all got a text that someone lost a cell phone during the ceremony. How amazing is that?”
Staff Sgt. Roger McCall said he was awed to learn how far that support extended Saturday when members of the Delaware Patriot Guard Riders and fire engines for Odessa Fire Company and Cecilton Fire Company escorted him home to a surprise party attended by about 100 family and friends.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling like no other,” he said of his return. “I think the hardest part of being away is missing the little things, like when my daughter bumps her leg and I’m not there to hold her. So, for right now, I’m really just looking forward to relaxing, enjoying my family and taking it day by day.”