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Surprise greets returning soldier in Longview

By Glenn Evans
April 29, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Sam Gardner Horton thought she was meeting her sister for a quiet Sunday dinner with her nephew, Army Spc. Artineal Gardner who arrived Saturday on leave from Afghanistan.

She knew by the 35 or so people carrying American flags that she was about to see a Welcome Home Soldier greeting for her unsuspecting nephew.

Moments later, Gardner and his mother, Jacqueline Gardner, pulled up to a star-spangled greeting.

"I was kind of confused for a moment," the soldier said minutes later, laughing. "What's going on? Something special is going on."

The father of three is home for 15 days, his first leave in seven months, before returning to war where he is set to complete his tour by early July, his mother said.

"I'm very proud of my boy, and I feel safer and very protected," she said. "I just want the war to stop. But, (this) boosts his morale. He can go back and fight harder knowing that we support him."

Gardner, 26, is in the thick of that fight. A team leader in demolition and road clearance, he said his men are in top form.

"We're halfway home right now," he said. "My soldiers are doing pretty well. They are excited. They keep pushing on with the mission. ... But, we do make the world safer for the people of Afghanistan, so they don't get hit by any (improvised explosive devices)."

Gardner's Aunt Sam was sufficiently touched by the unexpected party for her nephew that she asked for information on joining Welcome Home Soldier.

"This is so much different on TV than when it's for your own," she said, as event organizer Polly Morman explained the volunteer group's philosophy.

"They all belong to us," Morman told her. "You may be blood, but we're country."



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