First Large Group of Gulf Troops Returns to U.S.
Undated (AP) _ The first large contingent of U.S. troops from the Persian Gulf War reunited with their loved ones early Friday at Georgia’s Fort Stewart as a flag-waving crowd screamed and chanted ″U.S.A. 3/8 U.S.A. 3/8″
The emotional scene was destined to be repeated in coming weeks at military bases nationwide and in allied countries as hundreds of thousands of troops returned home after months in the Saudi Arabian desert.
A C-141 flying a U.S. flag from the top of its fuselage brought 105 members of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) back from Saudi Arabia to the same hangar they departed from at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah in August.
The soldiers then were bused to Fort Stewart, about 40 miles away. Under floodlights in front of a crowd of hundreds, they rejoined spouses, children and other loved ones in a joyous burst of hugging, kissing and crying.
Some people wandered through the crowd, calling out names, unable to immediately find the one person they came to see.
Two more planes carrying about 600 troops from the division were expected later Friday.
Beer was on ice at Fort Stewart and at air bases around the country as several thousand more Gulf War troops were scheduled to return later Friday. A full-scale redeployment of the 540,000 troops sent to the gulf is expected to take several months.
At Hunter airfield, a band played and a crowd cheered wildly as the first group of soldiers walked off the plane. A large banner said, ″Welcome Home Heroes.″
One soldier kissed the ground.
The division’s brigadier general, Terry Scott, briefly addressed the crowd, thanking the American people and President Bush.
″I’d like to tell the American people how much we appreciate their support, prayers and confidence during the last seven months. You’ve truly been our inspiration,″ Scott said. He also thanked President Bush ″for his purpose and resolve and for his concern for us.″
Most of the troops were sleepy and subdued on the flight home, although they did get some beer and pizza during a refueling stop at McQuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, Scott told reporters.
Officials had said the first plane landing in Georgia would carry one officer and four or five soldiers from each unit in the division. Most of the returning troops are logistics, finance and medical personnel.
The entire division of 18,000 troops will be home in about a month, said Fort Stewart spokesman Dean Wohlgemuth. It was deployed to the Persian Gulf in August.
Scattered small groups of troops already have arrived in the United States.
At Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Air Force Sgt. Brian Mann had to dig into three ice chests before he found what he wanted. ″Here it is, man. I’ve got the coldest one,″ he said, lifting a beer and popping the top.
″All we talked about for seven months was beer and women,″ said Mann, who was heading back to Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in South Carolina on Thursday.
More than 30 members of Hill Air Force Base’s 2952nd Combat Logistics Support Squadron arrived at Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday evening, where they were greeted by family and friends.
″We’re going to spend as much time together as it takes to make up for the seven months he has been away,″ said Michelle Ramsburg, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Herbert Ramsburg, left Aug. 9 for duty in the Saudi desert.
Charleston, S.C., and Philadelphia have been selected as two cities where reservists and members of small military units will return to the United States, said Ruth Bievins, a spokeswoman for the Military Traffic Management Command in Virginia.
Large units, however, such as the 24th Infantry Division, will fly directly to their home bases, Ms. Bievins said.
In Fayetteville, N.C., beer, balloons, bouquets and bubbly were selling briskly throughout the Army town, as spouses and friends eagerly waited to celebrate the return of Fort Bragg troops.
Some 900 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were among the troops coming back to the United States on Friday, said base spokeswoman Lt. Jackie Simchick. The 82nd Airborne was the first to be deployed to the Persian Gulf.
At least 175 Fort Bragg soldiers and airmen from adjoining Pope Air Force Base airmen have beers waiting on ice at one Fayetteville tavern as part of ″Operation Desert Beer.″
″We wanted to do something ... and it just took off like a firecracker,″ said Sheree Beck, owner of The Office. She said her adjacent Balloon & Wine Shop also is doing brisk business.
″It has been exceptionally busy,″ she said. ″I’ve had tears brought to my eyes a couple of times by wives calling me up.″