For Debra Dantzler of Harleyville, the timing couldn't have been better.
Her son, Cpl. Fred Dantzler of the South Carolina National Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team, returned home Saturday after serving in Afghanistan, just in time for Mother's Day.
Debra Dantzler and her daughter, Renata, waited patiently for him and about 50 other Guard members to arrive at the Mount Pleasant National Guard Armory on Mathis Ferry Road.
The 218th Brigade helped train the Afghan army and the Afghan national security forces for a year. Guard members have been sent home in waves, and all 1,800 members of the unit should
return home in the next week or so.
Saturday, family members and friends of the celebrated infantry soldiers lined the armory's driveway, waving American flags, balloons and homemade banners. A group in the crowd had red, white and blue symbols painted on their cheeks. One little girl had red and blue ribbons tied in her hair.
The Dantzlers held up "Welcome Home" banners with tiny American flags taped on them.
Debra Dantzler started to tear up just thinking of her son returning home safely. "That's the best Mother's Day present in the world," she said.
Shelby Cantrell also teared up at the thought of her husband, Sgt. Michael Cantrell, being home for her special day. "I've got a big surprise for him," she said. She recently added the Speed Channel, a television network dedicated to motorsports.
Her son, Joshua Ezell of North Charleston, and his family — wife Karen and daughters Savannah, 4, and Leah, 2 — also were there to welcome home the former Marine. The Ezells had moved up their wedding date to January 2007 to make sure Michael Cantrell could participate.
"He was the best man," Ezell said of his stepfather. "He had to be there. ... I'm glad he's back home, safe on American soil. I'm proud of him."
Finally, the soldiers arrived.
The crowd waved and cheered as the two buses rolled up, accompanied by police and military veterans riding on motorcycles.
The Guard members were united with their loved ones after a brief ceremony.
Spc. Dexter Robertson's wife Rebecca rushed to greet her husband. She held their 8-month-old daughter Lindsey in her arms. Robertson had seen his little girl only one time before: He was granted a two-week leave in September, two weeks after she was born.
"She looks just like you," said his mom, Pam Robertson, who had come along with Robertson's grandmother, Jeannette Crowsby. They all live in Walterboro.
Her son's arrival home was right on time, Pam Robertson said as she beamed at him while he gently caressed his baby. "They timed it just right," she said.
Robertson knew just what he wanted to do for his wife's first Mother's Day: Treat her at his favorite restaurant, a Japanese steakhouse.
"I'm going to take my wife shopping," he said, "and then we're going to Miyabi's."