Three little girls waited patiently for hours Friday afternoon to welcome home their daddy’s soldier buddies.
Or at least that’s what mom told them.
When Staff Sgt. Patrick Lee, 29, stepped off the bus and back into his family’s life, his 5-year-old daughter Isabella and 2-year-old daughter Emmalyn ran to him.
It took 8-year-old Miah a minute to realize that daddy was home for real.
“I didn’t know it was him,” she said. “Then those two ran up and started hugging him and I said, ‘Wow, I guess it’s Dad.’”
Lee and more than 100 local soldiers with the U.S. Army Reserve’s 212th Transportation Company returned home to their Chattanooga headquarters after a grueling yearlong tour in Afghanistan.
Some soldiers came home early due to injuries after their April 2010 departure, but 1st Sgt. Brian Fulkerson said none were disabled or killed during the deployment.
As their name implies, the soldiers of the 212th transported “basically anything they could put on trucks” over treacherous terrain where roadside bombs, tire-drowning mud and insurgent attacks meant a 60-mile trip could take 10 days, Fulkerson said.
“When the rainy season hit, it got worse, a lot worse,” the sergeant said, and a normal four- to six-day mission could take nearly two weeks.
The Army tasked Fulkerson’s troops with transporting equipment across the entire southern half of the country. At one point, his company of more than 200 soldiers was spread out in five locations, he said. They completed 275 missions, driving more than 330,000 miles, he said.
Often that meant a lot of waiting.
Thirty-two-year Army veteran Sgt. Michael Croucher, lovingly called “Gramps” or “Paw-Paw” by most of the company’s twenty-something soldiers, worked as a mechanic for the 212th in his third — and final — combat tour.
“All of these places got [improvised explosive devices], you’ve got to sit there in line, can’t get out of the truck,” he said. “You get maybe 100 yards and then another one will hit.”
In a weeklong convoy mission, Croucher said it was common for the unit to run across 10 to 18 IEDs in the round-trip.
At 52, Croucher is almost the oldest man in the unit, but he said he relished mentoring the younger soldiers.
Late in the tour, he said he jokingly asked all of the soldiers to write down their names so he could claim them as dependents on his tax forms.
“I got 140 grandkids,” he laughed.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...