St. Paul, Minn. — More than 100 family members were gathered at Fort Snelling before 9 Monday morning. They were there to greet troops from the 457th Transportation Battalion who were scheduled to arrive at 10. And when the families caught glimpse of the bus carrying their loved ones toward them, they erupted into chants for the 457th.
The parents of Ashley Scott, 21, a sergeant in the reserve unit that returned, were on hand to greet her. Scott says she's ecstatic to see her family again, and she's looking forward to having some of the other things that she's missed, too.
"It's just real nice to be back home, get real food and the comforts that you're missing," she said.
The soldiers of the 457th Battalion left for Iraq last October as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were stationed north of Baghdad in a command-and-control role for 12 companies serving under the battalion. They set up convoy missions to deliver fuel, equipment and other supplies.
The battalion came under mortar attack more than 260 times, but there were no deaths and no major injuries among soldiers in the 457th. And while these troops are happy to be home, Master Sgt. Scott Berndt says they tempered their enthusiasm.
"We looked forward to it, yet we couldn't let it overcome what we had to do at the same time because it's still going on," he said. "And we're leaving a lot of troops back there. That's hard. All the people you worked with for the last year, they're still there."
The 457th is a reserve unit. So most of its troops will now go back to their civilian lives with their loved ones. Paul Yanzer, who will soon return to work for the city of Minneapolis, is looking forward to that.
"I'm on leave starting the 3rd," he said. "I've got about 19 days. I'm going to try to squeeze a couple of more weeks out of the employer, just rest, recuperate and get used to the surroundings again. That's it."
Getting used to their surroundings could be tough for the soldiers. Army Reserve officials say they provide support for the troops as well as their families in trying to make the adjustment. But Barb Berndt, whose husband returned on Monday, says it could still be a challenge.
"Things kept going while they were gone. We move on and did out thing and survived this who year. They left at a certain point and they're going to come back here. So it's like that big time is missing. They can't ever get that back. It will be hard to step back in," Berndt said. A brief ceremony at Fort Snelling was held to mark the soldiers' return. There were remarks from some military and government officials. But the most emotional words came from Laura Hoffman, the wife of one of the returning soldiers.
"We will never get the birthdays, holidays and special occassions back of the year gone by, but we can celebrate today and we can be thankful there are days in the coming year that will be a little more special because now they are home. Thank you for bringing them home safe," she said.