120 soldiers go home to shouts of joy

12-month tour in Afghanistan ends

Robert McCarthy greeted his 10-year-old son, Liam, at the Braintree Armory Monday. McCarthy and his fellow soldiers were in Afghanistan for a year providing security to provincial reconstruction teams across the country.

BRAINTREE - Three busloads of soldiers from the Massachusetts National Guard were greeted with roars of joy and hugs of relief Monday when they returned to the armory here, marking an end to their 12-month deployment to Afghanistan.

“He’s my son and he’s my hero,’’ Paul Lopez said as he rested his hand on the shoulder of Lieutenant Michael Lopez, who commanded the first platoon of C Company of the 182d Infantry Regiment during the deployment.

About 120 soldiers arrived in Braintree yesterday.


Company C and a second unit, Bravo Company, which arrived in Ayer Monday, came home without suffering a loss during their year of active duty, according to the National Guard.

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“I had some great leaders in this company - and soldiers as well - just looking out for each others’ backs and doing their jobs,’’ said Captain Mark Gillen, who commanded Company C.

Gillen, who is a Weymouth police officer in civilian life, added, “We just all came home safe.’’

The soldiers landed at Logan International Airport in Boston and were then given a motorcycle escort by Braintree police to the armory on Union Street. The route took them past Braintree firefighters who deployed a ladder truck holding a huge American flag, which was billowing in the gusty wind and had to be restrained with a rope by a strong firefighter.

According to National Guard headquarters, the soldiers provided security to each of the 12 provincial reconstruction teams across Afghanistan.


The teams are responsible for rebuilding the infrastructure and political structure of Afghanistan.

The soldiers will have several weeks of leave from their National Guard duties, during which many, like Lopez, will look for a job or consider going back to school.

“It was a rewarding experience,’’ said Michael Lopez, who is considering a career in law enforcement. “I’m definitely looking forward to getting to the next phase of my life.’’

Members of C Company of the 182d Infantry Regiment got a police escort from Logan Airport to Braintree, where they found a happy crowd of relatives and other well-wishers.

Lopez’s mother, Gail Lopez, could not stop smiling after her son got off the bus. “Couldn’t be more happy to have him home,’’ she said. “It’s been a long year. But everybody is home safe, and they did a very good job when they were there.’’

The Lopez family lives in Medfield, and Paul Lopez offered a brief description of what life has been like for his son - and for the loved ones waiting back home.


“I think when you get up every day and you put on metal plates [for body armor] and carry a gun - and when you are parent of the person doing that - it’s very hard,’’ Paul Lopez said. “You are always concerned.’’

Gillen said he plans to spend as much time as possible with his wife, Michelle, and their son, Jack, who was 4 weeks old when Gillen was deployed overseas.

“I missed pretty much my son’s whole first year of his life,’’ Gillen said. “It’s the best feeling to be home after a year of being gone.’’

John R. Ellement can be reached at