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Bright day for loved ones as National Guard members return

| Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010

There were moments during her son's service in Afghanistan when Beth Mayer's heart ached.

This was especially so in June when two soldiers from her son's unit were killed in action.

What happened Friday then seemed almost inconceivable.

When Nathan Weimer, 23, stepped off a bus at National Guard headquarters in Mt. Pleasant yesterday afternoon, Mayer of Somerset was there waiting for him and, as soon as she could, she hugged and kissed him.

Moments earlier, she let her emotions show. Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke about her son, one of 28 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry welcomed to Mt. Pleasant and home by friends and relatives after a 11-month deployment in Afghanistan.

"I was scared to death for him for a month and a half," Mayer said of those days last summer when news reached stateside of the deaths of Sgt. 1st Class Robert J. Fike, 38, of Conneautville and Staff Sgt. Bryan Hoover, 29, of West Elizabeth. "I kept thinking to myself that could have been anyone's son."

It was a cold and snowy January day when the 1st Battalion's Company C left for the war zone, and the mood was somber. Yesterday was bright and mild, and the mood was decidedly lighter, though not out-and-out festive, at least on the surface.

Joseph Snyder of Rockwood, Somerset County, was standing with his wife Kristie and their 7-year-old Devin moments after getting off the bus. A staff sergeant, Snyder said it felt "great" to be home.

"This was my third deployment, and it's always nice when you see so many people on hand to welcome us home," Snyder said.

While he was in Afghanistan, the Snyders spoke to one another "every day," Joseph Snyder said. Stationed in Gardez, about 60 miles south of the Afghan capital of Kabul, and providing security for small-scale U.S. reconstruction teams, Snyder said duty was "an up and down" kind of thing.

Capt. Cory Petro of Berlin said the soldiers helped one another to get through the tough times. After the June deaths of Fike and Hoover who were killed in a suicide bomb attack, Petro said there was a period of "adjustment" during which members of the unit banded even closer together.

Lt. Col. Ros Gammon, commander of the 1st Battalion, said the men who returned yesterday, the 40 soldiers who are still processing at Camp Atterbury, Ind., and the 55 soldiers who are on the verge of leaving Afghanistan for home will all receive information as part of their debriefing about counseling and other help that is available to them as they transition from combat to the homefront.

In addition to daily calls that will be placed by his staff to the returned soldiers, Gammon said the men will have an Army-expenses-paid weekend in February with their families at a Pittsburgh hotel, to air any transition problems they might be having.

"Hopefully, if there are problems, we will know about them before that weekend," Gammon said.

Besides the 28 soldiers who returned to the National Guard armory in Mt. Pleasant, 35 unit soldiers returned yesterday to New Castle and 37 to the National Guard armory in Shadyside.

Gammon said the men who just returned from Afghanistan can probably count on staying home for two years. That will suit Beth Mayer just fine, who said her fondest hope is that her son's next deployment will be in the United States.

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