HEIDELBERG, Germany - The war, and travel weary soldiers filed off the
chartered bus to the joyful screams of wives and open armed children running
for hugs a year gone missing.
Company A, 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion was finally home from
But for many of the 68 soldiers who returned Friday to Heidelberg, Germany,
home is still a long way away.
"Will you hold my hand," whispered a sergeant in Pfc. Cody Sheldon's ear as
Alpha's commander stood before the troops for one last formation with tearful
flag-waving wives and children standing on the sidelines.
"It's hard," said Sheldon, a 19-year-old single soldier from Baltimore, as he
lugged his gear from the bus up into his barracks. "You knew there were going
to be all those families here, but it kind of leaves you wishing you were
already home with your own family."
Sheldon said he's planning to surprise his parents when he heads home on
leave in a few days.
"They still think I'm in Kuwait," he said. "I'm just going to show up at the
As the married soldiers drive away with spouses and children, Sheldon and the
other single soldiers still have some work to do.
Like many units, Alpha left for Iraq in a hurry. Personal belongings in the
barracks — everything from clothes and TVs to snowboards and cell phones — were
boxed up and put into storage after they left.
Moving into newly renovated barracks, the single soldiers have to wait in the
halls as a sergeant works her way room-by-room to sign over their keys and
boxes of personal items.
"Hey, these are great rooms!" said Spc. Matthew Vaughn as walked into his new
room. "This is much nicer than the barracks we were in before."
"My snowboard better be in here or there'll be hell to pay," quipped Spc. Ben
Heidenreich as he peered into his closet stacked full of boxes. "Whose bike is
this? It's not mine."
Unit leaders have left a loaf of bread and a small bag of groceries in each
room for the new arrivals.
"That's kind of nice of them," said Heidenreich's roommate, Spc. David
Delgado, as he checks out his own room and the adjoining kitchen area and
The rooms and food are small compensation, though, for many of the young
soldiers. Under the Army's "reintegration" program, it will be at least seven
days before any of these soldiers will be allowed to sign off on leave and fly
home to the States.
It wasn't not all glum faces, though. Far from it. While still far from home,
everyone was clearly glad to be out of Iraq.
Spontaneous bear hugs were exchanged as random hoots of delight echoed
through the barracks as soldiers sifted through their boxes.
Outside in the hallway, a party had already erupted. Three hours to go until
noon, Spc. Gregory Dulin was cracking open beers for his buddies.
Known in the barracks as "The Dude," Dulin arrived from Iraq a few weeks
earlier. "I'm just doing what I can to welcome them back," said Dulin, handing
over another beer.
With rucksacks and gear still splayed next to doors, the soldiers were
already telling war stories and remember-whens.
"It'll be a pretty good party tonight, I imagine," said Vaughn. "There's a
lot steam to let off."
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