METHUEN — Several families had gathered at the armory on Lowell Street, many of them strangers to each other, for some music, food and a little bit of somewhat nervous socializing.
The reason for the get together set everyone’s nerves tingling and charged the air.
About 55 members of the 181st Engineer Company of the Army National Guard returned home just before midnight Wednesday night from a roughly 10-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Families from as far away as Chicopee gathered at the armory for a homecoming party, coordinated by some local families for the return of a detachment of the company based in Methuen. The other part of the company is based in Bourne. Members said everyone returned home safe, with only a few minor injuries.
The company left from Cape Cod around Labor Day for a tour in Afghanistan, building and combining forward operating bases in remote parts of the country for use by coalition and Afghan soldiers. Communication to family back home was difficult.
“Communication was really shoddy,” said Terri Iovine of Methuen, whose son Lewis, 24, returned from his first foreign deployment. “My first phone call was at Thanksgiving, and I got another at Christmas. It was very isolated.”
Family members and friends got text message alerts from their loved ones, a play-by-play of their return stateside. The bus, scheduled to arrive around midnight Thursday morning, came in about 20 minutes early.
“All the soldiers came in and did a formation, and all the families erupted in cheers and screams,” said Colleen Oxley, who came from Chicopee with her four children to greet her husband, Brian. “They did a very quick line up and dismissed everybody to their families.”
After dismissal, the soldiers ran to their tearful reunions — and in some cases to introductions. Spc. Randy Hough met his 2-month-old son Randy, Jr. for the first time.