S.C. Guard members returning today

POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. - Let the homecoming begin.

The first of 1,600 S.C. National Guard troops serving in Afghanistan flew into Pope Air Force Base at 5 a.m.

"It's unexplainable," Pfc. Edlynn Atkins of Beaufort said about the feeling of almost being home. "I’m on an adrenaline rush."

The 160 soldiers from the 218th Combat Brigade were greeted by Maj. Gen. Stan Spears, the S.C. Guard’s adjutant general, and a few other senior officers. Only four family members made the trip to North Carolina to meet the arriving plane.

"I can’t thank you enough for the tremendous job you did for your state and your country," Spears said in a brief speech.

The soldiers will spend three to four days at Fort Bragg, N.C., where they will go through demobilization. That process will take them from active duty soldiers to traditional Guard members.

The soldiers were exhausted after spending five days traveling from Afghanistan to North Carolina.

"It's been a journey trying to get back," said Spc. Randy Gibson of Camden. "It doesn’t even feel like I’m in the United States yet."

About an hour after landing, the troops were bused to barracks where they could shower and sleep before beginning their demobilization later in the morning.

The 218th Brigade has spent the past year in Afghanistan, where troops have trained the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Security Forces. Troops will continue returning to South Carolina through mid-May.

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