CUMBERLAND, Md. – The Army reserve unit at the center of the Iraqi prison scandal got a delayed but heartfelt welcome home Friday from about 400 friends and family.
Gathered on a downtown pedestrian mall, the crowd cheered the 372nd Military Police company (search), based in nearby Cresaptown, with a parade, patriotic songs, yellow ribbons and signs proclaiming: "Welcome Home 372nd. Thank You."
The unit returned home to a ceremony in August at Fort Lee, Va., but there had been no fanfare in western Maryland.
"It's good knowing people appreciate what we did," said soldier Chris MacDoearby armory for members of the company and their families.
"You can't deny what happened. The pictures showed that," said Connie Deining, holding a sign to welcome home MacDonald-Hill. "But it was six or seven people. There's a lot of really good people in this unit."
When they left for Iraq in May 2003, soldiers from the 372nd were given the task of training the newly formed Iraqi police force and setting up a local police academy.
The following October, the unit was transferred to Abu Ghraib (search) prison, put in charge of minding some of the thousands of prisoners who filled the cells. In April, photos emerged showing members of the unit allegedly subjecting prisoners to humiliation and abuse.
Seven soldiers from the 372nd were charged with various crimes; two have pleaded guilty.
"We still have a cloud over our head, but we are trying to stay positive," unit commander Capt. Donald Reese said.
Most of the soldiers were reluctant to speak about Iraq, worried their service would be overshadowed by the misconduct of a few. That resonates with Vietnam vets.
"It is of great concern that our troops be welcomed home with respect and dignity," said Vietnam veteran Robert Krueger.