115th ESB heading homePublished 6:04am Wednesday, October 17, 2012
It has almost been a year since the men and women of the Alabama Army National Guard’s 115th Expeditionary Signal Battalion left the comfort of their homes here in North Alabama and headed for their stations in the tumultuous country of Afghanistan.
During that time, the family and friends of these brave soldiers have waited anxiously for the time when their loved ones would be back home, and much to their relief, the wait will soon be over.
The nearly 500 men and women who serve with the 115th ESB are scheduled to return home by the end of October.
Lynn Grigsby, the wife of 115th ESB commander Lt. Col. Todd Grigsby, said a small advanced group has already made it back in the states, but the others will be following soon.
“The rest of the group should arrive sometime within the next two weeks,” Grigsby said. “We don’t have any specific dates for their arrival, but we know it’s supposed to be by the end of the moth if everything goes according to plan.”
In anticipation of all the local troops coming home, Grigsby and others who have loved ones who are part of the 115th ESB are trying to encourage community support for the soldiers’ arrival.
They have been asking cities, towns, businesses, individuals and organizations to put out yellow ribbons, flags, signs, banners, homemade posters and any other decorations to let the returning soldiers know they have been missed.
“This isn’t necessarily an organized effort, but we just wanted to get the word out that our soldiers are coming home after fighting for their country in a foreign land for almost a year,” Grigsby said.
“We just think it would be nice if, when they got here, they saw ribbons and flags and signs of support everywhere they go.”
Grigsby contacted Russellville Mayor Troy Oliver who was more than willing to help with her efforts.
“I have never seen a group of braver soldiers than the ones in the 115th,” said Oliver, who is a retired Army Major General with the Army National Guard.
“When they received their orders to go to Afghanistan, they went forward with what they had to do and never complained.
“They deserve our respect and our support and I hope everyone in this city will do something to show their support.”
Oliver said he planned to place yellow ribbons around the city in the coming days with the help of the Russellville Fire Department and Russellville Street Department. He said he’ll also have all the American flags put out along Sloss Lake on Alabama 24 and have banners made to hang downtown and along the highways.
“It really is the least we can do for these soldiers returning home,” he said. “They’ve sacrificed a lot to fight for their country. They’ve had to be away from their families and this has been hard on all the families, too.”
Russellville native Jessica Boyles Montgomery agrees that the past year without her husband, Matt, who was deployed with the 115th ESB, has been difficult.
“It was hard not having him home for big things like Thanksgiving, Christmas and my brother’s wedding, but it was also hard not having him home for small things,” Montgomery said. “It was hard not being able to include him in everyday decisions that most couples make together.”
Montgomery’s family also had to do without her brother-in-law, Kirk Nelson, who has two boys, Tyler Nelson, 10, and Drew Nelson, 6, who have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of their father and uncle.
“It was difficult not to worry about their wellbeing everyday because of the distance and not always having consistent communication with them,” Montgomery said. “Tyler and Drew are tough boys but they missed their dad and uncle.”
Thankfully for Montgomery, her husband won’t be missing another big event this year since Matt was actually part of the group that is already home and he’ll be able to celebrate their second wedding anniversary with her on Oct. 23.
“I am so thankful for my husband and the men and women that serve our country,” Montgomery said. “They sacrifice so much for so little and they do not receive the recognition that they deserve.
“They leave their lives and families for a year to serve and protect the United States and our way of life, and they do it without complaining and usually suffer tough living conditions while doing it. I cannot begin to thank them enough.”
Belgreen resident Kristin Malone and her family are still anxiously awaiting the arrival of her uncle, Sgt. Brett Williams.
Williams has been stationed in Afghanistan with the 115th ESB’s Alpha Company Malone said it has been difficult, especially for Williams’ eight-year-old daughter, Ally, knowing he was so far away and that he could be in danger at any point during his tour overseas.
“This is not his first time being gone, but this time was a little harder because of his daughter. She is old enough to understand where he is and that hurt a lot in the beginning,” Malone said.
“She had a hard time when he first left but she has been a little trooper. It makes it easier with technology like Face Time and the fact that he can call her when he gets the chance, but it isn’t the same as him being here. This past year he has missed out on so much – birthdays, homework, golf, Christmas.
“When you have someone in your family gone, risking his life for his country and defending your freedom, everyday is hard. It never gets easier until your soldier comes home.”
Malone said their whole family has been counting down the days until Williams is safely back in Franklin County.
“I have just missed my son so much this past year,” said Pat Williams, Brett’s mother. “The closer it gets to time for him to be home the more excited I get. As any mother would, I worried and will still worry till I see my son’s face.”
“I’m happy he’s coming home and I’m anxious to see him,” said Ryan Malone, Williams’ nephew. “It takes a brave person to do what he does. He risks his life for mine. He is my uncle but most of all he is my hero.”
Grigsby said that most people who know soldiers consider them heroes for what they do.
“That’s why we think it’s important to give them a hero’s welcome,” she said. “They’re all heroes to us.”
Grigsby said those who want to participate in “painting the city yellow” should do so as soon as possible since they don’t know an exact time the soldiers will arrive back in the area.
“We just ask that you put up any flags or signs and just leave them up until about the first week in November,” she said. “That way the soldiers will have a chance to see them and know how glad we all are for their service and to finally have them back home.”