Countdown over: soldier makes surprise return from Iraq

7:37 PM, Dec 30, 2011   |    comments
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SMYRNA -- Sixty Georgia National Guard soldiers came home this week, one of the last units to return from Iraq. It was an early surprise return for the soldiers -- and their families.

At the Smyrna home of Will and Amanda Cox hang five numbers that one likely wouldn't give a second look until finding out what they mean. The numbers represent the weeks Captain Cox would be serving in Iraq.

A few still hung on this day because the captain came home early.

"Getting home for the holidays was a monumental event," says Capt. Cox. "I still can't believe it all worked out."

The captain and his unit, Company C 1-111th, spent ten months overseas providing medical support for more than 25,000 soldiers. They would be among the last units to leave the country as the U.S. withdrew its troops.

Says Capt. Cox, "I've got some guys that have 20 years in and could have retired, but chose to fly aircraft and be medics and crew chiefs for us. And they did such a good job."

But the captain is also a husband and father, and this mission also different because, for the first time, he was leaving two kids at home -- baby Lucy and three-year-old Conner.

"It's pretty hard when you're leaving and your children are begging for you not to go," he said. "It's pretty heart-wrenching."

Whenever Capt. Cox could get to Kuwait, he'd record videos to send home to Smyrna. Meanwhile, wife Amanda would e-mail voice recordings to her husband every day.

The unit finished its mission on December 18th, with the final command from the White House to get everyone home for the holidays -- nearly a month earlier than expected. Capt. Cox surprised his wife by calling her from their front door.

"He knocked on the door, and I heard it echo through the phone," recalled wife Amanda. "So I raced to the door, and who knows where my cell phone landed ... and I opened the door, and I was just so elated."

On Friday, with the holidays still alive and the family reunited, Capt. Cox and son Conner took down the countdown numbers -- for good.

Said the captain, "To hug my son and get tackled and wrestle with him, and to see my daughter, who's now smiling ... just to be a part of that, I'm a lucky man."

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