FORT HOOD, Texas – Soldiers in the last U.S. combat brigade to leave Iraq have arrived home in time for Christmas.
Nearly 200 soldiers arrived at Fort Hood on Saturday, while others arrived earlier in the week. The drizzling rain and chilling wind didn't dampen the excitement of relatives who had waited two hours, some wrapped in blankets and holding signs decorated with ornaments and candy canes.
They screamed upon seeing the troops from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division arrive in buses and march onto a field at the Texas Army post. Then the wives, children and parents ran toward the soldiers, hugging and kissing them, after the announcer ended a brief ceremony by yelling, "Charge!"
1st Sgt. Scott Dawson, who scooped up his two young daughters and kissed his wife, Jessica, said he was glad to be home from his fourth deployment.
"In the future I'm sure this will really hit me," he said, referring to the significance of his being in the last brigade to leave Iraq.
The troops rolled across the Iraq border into neighboring Kuwait a week ago as the nearly nine-year war came to an end. Only about a dozen soldiers in the brigade are still overseas, as are some troops in another brigade that also was part of the convoy of heavily armored personnel carriers that slipped out of Iraq under cover of darkness and in strict secrecy to prevent any final attacks.
"The biggest thing is that he made it," said Capt. Jessica Dawson, who deployed with her husband in 2009. "Like I told the kids, even if he doesn't get back in time, this will be the best Christmas ever because he's out of Iraq."
The 3rd Brigade's commander, Col. Douglas Crissman, said it was a privilege that the brigade was the last to leave Iraq. Preparing for the final exit took a year, he said.
"Fort Hood has given a lot -- blood, treasure, time and sacrifice -- like many Army installations, so being part of the closing days in Iraq is fitting," he said Saturday as he watched soldiers hug their families. "It's great to be part of the end. There's closure. We were the last vehicles to roll out, and that was a privilege."
Fort Hood has about 46,500 active-duty soldiers. Since 2003, more than 565 have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to officials at the Army post.