Fort Hood Celebrates Return of 4th Infantry

After a year in which they captured Saddam Hussein (search) and lost 79 soldiers fighting in Iraq, the troops of the 4th Infantry Division (search) are finally back home.

Fort Hood (search) gave its 20,000 returning troops a hero's welcome with a daylong party Thursday, a day after the last of them flew in from their yearlong tour in the Middle East.

Among the crowd that was expected reach 50,000 people were Gov. Rick Perry and Army Secretary Les Brownlee, who praised the troops for catching Saddam hiding in a spider hole.

"When the 4th nabbed the ace of spades, the people of Iraq knew that he would never terrorize them again," Brownlee said, referring to Saddam's place in the U.S. military-issued card deck of high-level Iraqis.

Several entertainers were scheduled to perform at the bash, including Jessica Simpson, Randy Travis, Ludacris, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Drew Carey and the New England Patriots cheerleaders. Texas ranchers donated about 30,000 barbecue sandwiches for the party.

Soldiers surrounded by children, wives, girlfriends and relatives milled about the parade grounds. Troops in desert camouflage rode the carousel and Ferris wheel with their toddlers at a small carnival set up for the party.

Monica Sanchez was holding her 3-month-old son, Matthew, and clinging to husband Pfc. Steven Sanchez of Palmdale, Calif.

"I don't know what I would have done if I lost him," said Monica Sanchez, who married her husband days before he shipped out. "It felt so long. I kept looking at my calendar and was counting the days. I'm thrilled to pieces. I'm on Cloud Nine. I have the two most important men of my life right now."

Sanchez, whose son was decked out in a 4th Infantry Division one-piece suit and camouflage pants, said he is still adjusting to being back and to being a new father.

War also changed Sgt. John Almen of Apple Valley, Minn. A metal pipe he saw sticking out alongside the road near this central Texas post sent his mind back to patrols near Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.

"I just locked onto that object until I got past it, and then remembered, 'Oh yeah, that's not going to blow up,"' Almen said.

Readjusting to life since returning to United States in mid-March has been rocky for Almen, whose wife of 14 years left him while he was in Iraq. But he added that he has gained perspective.

"Nothing bothers me now. People yell at me and it doesn't matter; they're not shooting at me," he said.

The last 275 soldiers of the division returned Wednesday to a cheering crowd of family and friends.

Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division, which was deployed in March 2003, have been returning to Fort Hood since mid-February. Another 20,000 troops from Fort Hood's III Corps and 1st Cavalry Division were deployed to Iraq early this year.

Thursday's celebration was closed to the general public due to security concerns, Army officials said. Fort Hood is home to about 44,000 military personnel.