N. Carolina unit's tear-filled return ends tough Iraq tour

ROCKY MOUNT — There have been hundreds of unit homecomings across North Carolina in the past six years, as troops returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Few, if any, though, were as emotional as the 1132nd Military Police Company's Tuesday.

The 1132nd lost four men in action in three attacks this spring, all in less than a month. More than 20 troops were wounded, some of them badly. The unit's dead accounted for nearly half the state Guard total of nine killed in action in Iraq.

The losses weren't just bad luck. The unit was doing a particularly dangerous job in a bad place at a bad time. It was training Iraqi police officers on the edge of the Baghdad slum called Sadr City, a vast stronghold of the Shiite insurgents loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The insurgents waged a campaign of attacks against U.S. forces this spring.

And when they got off the planes that flew them home, the 120 troops were swarmed on the tarmac of Rocky Mount-Wilson Airport by a relieved crowd of nearly 400 people. Most were family and friends. Some were just locals who came out to honor the men and women who had just lived through the deadliest deployment by any North Carolina National Guard company since World War II.

Everywhere, people were bawling and hugging harder than they had ever hugged. Wives, husbands, moms, dads, kids and then soldiers one another.

Pfc. Edward D. Faircloth of Dunn stood and took his hugs, one long crush after another, while clinging to the staff bearing the unit's colors. His mom, Cathy Harrington, clung and cried. Then came men from his own unit, who had themselves just stepped off one of the planes. First to grab him was Sgt. Jerry Davis; then the strapping Sgt. Ben Parrish, his face red, locked onto Faircloth and held him for a long moment. "Doing OK?" was all Parrish could manage between snuffles.

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