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Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA)

3rd Is Home; All 3,700 Soldiers From The Army's 3rd Brigade Have Returned To Benning


July 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA). All rights reserved. 

Patriotism, tears flow

Waiting for his stepson to return from war, the self-proclaimed "most patriotic man who ever lived" clicked a pair of spoons against his thigh to the rhythm of Fort Benning's Infantry Band.

"I am the most patriotic man who ever lived," said 54-year-old Terry Blanton, 21-year U.S. Navy reserve veteran from Blacksburg, S.C. "I was born that way."

When he spoke to 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division Sgt. Kris Barnette earlier this week, he told him how to find him in Kelley Hill's crowded Kefurt Gym.

Barnette, 21, part of the division's 1st Battalion, 3Oth Infantry Regiment, had no problems finding his stepfather on Saturday. He was the man wearing a "USA" cap, a T-shirt bearing Barnette's image and American flag-patterned overalls with flashing red lights.

The young soldier, doesn't talk much, family members said. He greeted Blanton with a squeeze on the arm and a "hey." But it was enough to get Blanton's patriotic blood flowing.

"I'm as happy as a pig in mud," Blanton said.

The last 600 soldiers from the 3rd Brigade remaining in the Persian Gulf returned home Saturday, arriving in three different waves. Most of the soldiers were from 1-30. A few of them were part of the brigade's Headquarters and Headquarters Company. After spending 13 of the last 15 months in the Persian Gulf, and after leading the charge into Iraq during the war, all 3,700 soldiers from the brigade are home.

The wait nearly made Earline Freeman a nervous wreck.

She began sobbing after discovering that her grandson, Cpl. Clint Costilow, did not arrive with Saturday's first wave of soldiers.

"I had to take a nerve pill," said Freeman, 65, of Brookhaven, Miss.

She felt better when Costilow came in with the second wave and put his helmet on her head.

Costilow's family waited with family members of 21-year-old Spc. Randy Clay. The two infantry soldiers serve in the same unit and have been best friends for three years. They are rarely apart from each other.

"If one is there, the other is there," said Clay's mother, Candy Clay, 50, of Houston.

"They're just like a man and his shadow," said Costilow's father, Randy Costilow, 52, of Wesson, Miss.

The were inseparable even in war.

The 1-30 fought battles at Tallil Airfield, Samawah, Karbala and Baghdad. Some of the 1-30 also fought elsewhere. But after each battle, Costilow said he checked on his friend.

"We were in villages and shots were firing all around us. They were everywhere," said Costilow, 21, who was the runner-up bareback rider in the 1999 Mississippi state rodeo. "Every time something happened, I tried to find the people in my platoon. Then I tried to find him. Just like friends do."

The two are planning to take a long motorcycle ride together next week.

"We're a lot closer now," Costilow said. "Situations like this bring you together."

Following the battle of Tallil Airfield, near Nasiriyah, 1-30's Alpha Company was attached to the division's 1st Brigade. The company helped secure a key bridge over the Euphrates River, clearing the way for the advance upon Baghdad. Alpha Company also participated in the successful assault on Baghdad Airport, which led to the fall of the Iraqi capital days later.

Alpha Company Sgt. Hector Santiago-Ortiz was part of those operations. He said he could not describe the carnage he had seen.

"The job is hard," said Santiago-Ortiz, 23, of Coamo, Puerto Rico. "I will always remember my time in Iraq."

With guerrilla attacks on U.S. soldiers heating up in Iraq, Santiago-Ortiz said it was difficult to leave the soldiers from the 1st Brigade, who have been ordered to remain there indefinitely.

"It was hard for us to go," he said. "But, at the same time, we wanted to leave, too."

The "most patriotic man" also said he was concerned about U.S. soldiers remaining in Iraq.

"These guys are all heroes," Blanton said. "We need to get the others home before anything happens to them."

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