Michael Neighbours said he couldn’t have made it through a recent yearlong tour of duty in Afghanistan without the support of his family and the Dawson County community.
That support was on full display Friday, as a patriotic, flag-waving crowd of hundreds lined the streets of Dawsonville to welcome Neighbours home.
Neighbours, 21, was overwhelmed by the reception. He thanked everyone for their support, which he said helped him make it through his tour.
“I am so lucky and blessed to have a loving family and loving community,” he said. “God bless you all. This homecoming means more to me than you will ever know.”
A Dawsonville native, Neighbours will be home for the next 30 days before going back to Fort Hood, Texas, where he is based, or possibly Fort Knox.
He arrived in Dawsonville shortly after 5 p.m. Dawson County Sheriff’s deputies escorted him to the local chamber of commerce, where he was met by county and city officials, as well as family members.
“We are so glad to have him home,” said his parents, Wayne and Kaye Neighbours. “Seeing him now is like he was never gone. We don’t want him to go back.”
Neighbours’ wife Holly said she was also glad to have her husband home. The couple married earlier this month in Texas.
“He’s my best friend and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with him,” she said. “It is hard when he is away, and we usually talk on Web cam. Getting to see him now is so much better than Web cam.”
District 1 Commissioner Gary Pichon described Friday as “a very important day.”
“We are gathered here today to thank Michael for his service to our country,” he said. “During the everyday humdrum of life for many of us here, there is a young person like Michael fighting for our freedoms and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us back home.”
While at home, Neighbours plans to spend time with friends and family, making up for missed birthdays and holidays.
“This homecoming is an answer to prayers,” Kaye Neighbours said. “We are so proud of him and what he’s done that it is hard to put into words how I feel. We are just so proud.”
She emphasized their gratitude to the community, saying it was “nice to know that we live in a community that cares.”
While in Afghanistan, Neighbours was stationed at the Honaker-Miracle forward operating post near the Pech River Valley in Kunar.
“Being over there, you realize all the precious little things of life that you take for granted,” he said. “As the U.S. Army, we need to be there for our country and I am ready to go back to the battlefield if that is what I need to do.”
Neighbours is an infantryman specializing in mortar combat. During his tour, family members said, he faced many hardships, often enduring stretches with little or no food and months without a shower.
For his actions during battle in January, Neighbours received the Bronze Star with Valor and was promoted to specialist.
His grandmother, Betty Neighbours, was present to welcome her grandson home.
“His eagerness and determination are qualities that make him an excellent member of the military,” she said. “I love him very much. I am very proud of him and I am glad to have him home, even just for a short time.”
After 9/11, Kaye Neighbours said, her son told his parents of his plan to enlist in the military.
Neighbours completed basic training at Fort Benning and air assault training at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Halfway through his four-year enlistment, he hopes to eventually study politics at the University of Georgia.