About 3,000 troops from a Texas National Guard unit returned home Saturday after nearly a year in Iraq, rushing into the arms of family members after the largest deployment of state guardsmen since World War II.
Members of the Fort Worth-based 56th Brigade lined up in formation at Baylor University's Floyd Casey Stadium. As they were introduced over the loudspeaker, soldiers ran onto the field like football stars while loud music and applause filled the air.
"Texas just hasn't been the same without you," Gov. Rick Perry said.
The troops were welcomed by an estimated 20,000 family members, friends and other well-wishers. Many of them had been in Iraq since January and initially were not scheduled to return for several more weeks.
"We didn't expect to see you until early next month," said Maj. Gen. Michael Taylor, who commands the 36th Infantry Division, which includes the returning brigade. "Well, Santa Claus came early this year."
The welcome rally also included a naturalization ceremony for 29 soldiers from seven countries who were not U.S. citizens when they deployed to the Middle East.