FORT VALLEY -- Mario Rodriguez, a combat veteran of Korea and Vietnam, stood outside the Army Reserve armory in Fort Valley on Friday and looked about as excited as a child on Christmas morning.
As he told a couple of war stories, he kept his eyes trained steadily on the highway until he finally heard a police siren up the street, a sound that was music to his ears.
Come on, come on, he said as he shifted his feet excitedly. Bring em on in here boys.
He had driven from Phenix City, Ala., to welcome home his grandson, Matthew Rodriguez, from a one-year deployment in support of the war in Afghanistan. His grandson was among 34 members of the 421st Quartermaster Co., all of whom volunteered for the duty, who were returning from performing a critically important mission. They are paratroopers who specialize in rigging supply pallets to drop to troops on the ground.
He has spoken to his grandson often over the phone during the deployment.
He loves it. He loves what he does, and hes very dedicated to what he does, Rodriguez said. Im dying to just put my hands on him and hug him.
As the police cars came in sight, behind them was a throng of motorcycles of the Patriot Guard Riders, and then a charter bus with the troops. At the sight of the bus Rodriguez raised both arms in the air and kept them there until the bus came to a stop.
After a few agonizing minutes in which the troops had to unload their bags from the charter on the other side of the parking lot, they walked over for tearful reunions with family members.
Operating out of a base outside of Afghanistan, the troops mission took on even greater importance after Pakistan cut off a key supply road from November until July. The airdrops became the primary way to get supplies to troops in the field. Pakistan cut off the route after the U.S. military mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops.
The 421st Quartermaster troops, who hail from around Georgia and surrounding states, were working 12 hours a day, seven days a week while the road was down. At one point they worked 36 straight hours, said Spc. Zach Stannard of Canton, after a long embrace with his tearful girlfriend, Kristina Cooper.
You are just going on fumes, he said. We knew what we were doing was important, so there was no saying, Lets quit.
While the unit has deployed troops individually through the years, it was the first time in a decade a group of troops had deployed. Another group has been sent to replace the returning one.
Connie Frady of Warner Robins and several others in her family were among the first to get to the armory for the arrival. They were there to welcome home her son, Spc. David Frady.
She said she last saw him six months ago when he came home on leave. Although he was not actually in Afghanistan, she said it didnt stop her from worrying.
I was very upset when he left, but I am very happy to have him come back, she said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.