Everyone thought she did a good job and many told her so. When she finally had a chance to hug to her son, she didn’t. She thought his wife and daughter should have those first moments with him. When she did get to him though, the tears flowed.
The guardsmen of Atlas Co, 167th Infantry were greeted with a lot of fanfare. They were welcomed by a cheering crowd waving American flags. Their bus was escorted by police, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, fire trucks and Patriot Guard Riders. Sheriff Larry Amerson, television, radio and newspaper reporters and photographers and the Jacksonville State University Honor Guard were there.
Skidmore’s great-aunt Myrt McCluer baked a cake and iced it in red, white and blue. Judy Shealy sang the National Anthem, Tracy Mayfield gave the prayer, and Lt. Col. Benjamin Valentine and 1st Lt. Matthew D. Byrd spoke.
Thanks to members of American Legion Post 57, 16 American flags lined the walkway. Post 57 commander Carl Hays said the post wanted to show their support to the men.
The men stood at attention during the ceremony and, once it was over, 6-year-old Sydney Ford led the way as she headed for the arms of her father, Specialist Aaron J. Ford, 29. Right behind Sydney was Ford’s wife, the former Kelli Jones, holding 5-month old Jacob whom Ford had never seen. Kelli planned ahead to have Jacob’s delivery by Caesarian section and Ford saw the birth via Skype.
Ford said he was “pretty surprised” about the welcome the men received. “I didn’t expect it to be that elaborate,” he said. “But it was nice. I want to thank everyone for all their support and for everything they did while I was deployed, especially my mother and my in-laws, Gary and Vanda Holt.”
Ford said the reception was “very sweet. But I only had a couple of hours to spend with my family. I’m on medical hold and I had to head back to Camp Shelby.”
Not a moment of those two hours were lost though. Ford said he spent every one of them playing with Sydney and holding Jacob.
Ford has been in the guard three years. He plans to attend JSU in the fall. He is the son of Judy Davis and the late Tony Ford.
Skidmore’s wife, Megan, and his daughter, Charlee, who will be 2 on June 14, greeted him. His in-laws, Mark and Jean Starr, were also there.
Skidmore, 24, has spent the past five and a half years in the National Guard. He works at the Alabama Military Academy at McClellan where he assists with the officer candidate school program.
When asked how it felt to be home, Skidmore said, “I really can’t explain it. It’s great. It’s the little things that you miss the most, that is besides family and friends.” One thing he missed was grass. “There was no grass. Just sand. It’s more like a moon dust. It’s a different texture, different from any sand that’s around here.”
Skidmore said the welcome was “amazing and perfect.” He was a little shocked to see how much Charlee had grown. “Even her personality has grown,” he said. “She knew me. Thanks to my wife and my mom and the rest of my family, they showed her pictures of me, and we talked on Skype.”
Skidmore said if it’s necessary to deploy overseas again, he’ll gladly do it. “If that’s what my country needs me to do, then that’s what I’ll do,” he said. “That’s what I signed up for. It’s part of being in the military.”
Skidmore said he wants to express his thanks to everyone, especially his family and friends, for their support and the welcome the men received.
“We’re glad to be home,” he said. “We missed everybody, but I couldn’t have deployed with a better group of people.”
The men were based Helmand Province.
Contact Margaret at firstname.lastname@example.org.