About 100 soldiers from the National Guard's Nashville-based 230th
Signal Company returned home on Friday after spending the past year in
The soldiers began their out-processing in Fort Dix, N.J., earlier this week and completed that process Friday at the volunteer training site in Smyrna.
Darlene Sanders, mother of a soldier, knows the pain and hurt of losing not just one child, but four. She made history when she gave birth to the first set of quintuplets in Tennessee, but only one survived.
"Losing four babies within two days is hard," she said. "It was hard leaving Stephen there - the only one who survived."
Doctors at Vanderbilt Medical Center first told her she would never be able to have any more children, but they were wrong.
"Stacey was a little miracle. She grew up healthy and strong - strong willed," Sanders said.
So when her daughter, 22-year-old Stacey Hawkins, decided to serve a second tour of duty after not finishing the first because of an accident, it was like her mother was reliving the past.
"When Stacey left, I had that same feeling of emptiness," Sanders said. "There were nights I would think about her and wonder what she was doing, how she was, whether she was cold or hot."
Friday, Sanders was among dozens of family members who were on hand in Smyrna to welcome home the soldiers from the Tennessee National Guard.
A year away from family has been difficult for the families and soldiers.
"It's been a very long wait. It feels good to be back, and know I'm done - that I did my job, served some great people," Hawkins said.
Sanders is just thankful to be reunited with her daughter.
"There are other parents out there that don't have this day because their child was killed over there in Afghanistan. I can't imagine. I can't imagine. I'm blessed that she's coming home," Sanders said.
More than 27,000 Tennessee Army and Air National Guardsmen have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001.
Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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