“It’s been a great year but it’s great to be home,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Miner to reporters on the ground at Fort Stewart, Georgia; Miner was one of a contingent of the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team that were deployed in Kuwait and Iraq.
According to a published press release and coverage reported on the unit’s Facebook, more than 150 soldiers from the 53rd returned home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia.
Sgt. Major Ray Quinn was appointed in January by Governor Charlie Crist to fulfill Miner’s unexpired term as a St. Johns County Commissioner. It will be up to Crist, or incoming Governor-elect Scott, to determine how much longer Quinn will serve, or, if Miner will be re-appointed.
When Miner’s plane landed at Hunter Army Airfield, near Savannah, he and the others were taken to nearby Fort Stewart for a “welcome home ceremony.” The Soldiers were the first group to return home from the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s mission — supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.
Quotes attributed to Miner yesterday indicate he had something more important to him, and new wife Cheryl, than politics — “Plans for this evening – this is my one-year anniversary so I am excited to see my wife.”
National Guard photographer Debra Cox caught Miner and his wife when they reunited yesterday morning and while temperatures were dipping into the 30’s. “She captured the moment before I even had my arms all the way around him,” Cheryl Miner said.
Carrying backpacks and rifles, the 150 men and women on the flight called out their hometowns — Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee — as they walked from the chartered jet. Lt. Col. Ron Tittle confirmed that they were the first of 2,500 members of the unit scheduled to return home by late December.
“Most were responsible for security operations in Kuwait and escorting convoys into Iraq,” said Tittle, who filmed Sunday’s return for the National Guard’s Facebook page. “The plan is to get them all home before Christmas Eve.”
Most of the returning soldiers were heading to military schools after a “Welcome Home” ceremony and five-day demobilization at Fort Stewart. They were mobilized in January when the unit left Florida for training at Fort Hood in Texas before flying to Kuwait in March, according to the National Guard.
Two members of the unit died during the year. Few members of the 53rd Infantry Brigade suffered serious injuries, according to Tittle. In addition to the 53rd Infantry Brigade, about 500 members of the state National Guard continue to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tittle said.
Photo credits: © 2010 Historic City News contributed photograph by Debra Cox