Covington-based National Guard unit returns to smiles, hugs

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wwltv.com

Posted on June 18, 2014 at 5:01 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 18 at 5:14 PM

Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email: arodrigue@wwltv.com | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl

COVINGTON, La. - The balloons were up, signs out and flags waving Wednesday morning in Covington.

The turnout was to welcome home Louisiana National Guard 1021st Engineer Company. They've been in Kuwait since last August. The second boots hit the ground, running, hugs and tears began all around.

"Amazing,” said Andrea Rayburn, “Best feeling ever."

The welcome home was a little bit different because the group came home on a 16-hour bus ride, which was actually a point of contention last week for a lot of family members.

Col. Rodney Painting said, "Normally movement command for the U.S. Army, a charter air carrier will normally pick those up. This flight wasn’t picked up for whatever reason, but we got them back actually probably about 12 hours quicker than we're going to get our other folks back."

"I was upset about that situation,” said Natasha Varnado, “But I was saying to myself that he's coming home and that's the best part about it. As long as I get to get my husband home."

Some soldiers say the ride from Fort Bliss, Texas wasn't easy. Sgt. Keith Varnado said, “Woo, for me, it was a struggle. I don’t like sitting in one spot for a very long time but it’s a blessing God got us here safely."

But support throughout their deployment did make the time away easier. Sgt. John Rayburn said, "I've been on another deployment and this one, I guess is more people from home, more people know each other, it’s been incredible."

Now these families are all smiles with their service men and women back safely. Several other groups of the 1021st were welcomed home, closer to their homes across the state today, as well. Next up for the entire 1021st is preparing for emergency storm response for this hurricane season.

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