By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Laura Wombacher broke into tears even before the buses pulled away down Battalion Avenue, revealing her son and the other 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, troopers who returned from Iraq Wednesday.
Saber squadron deployed in March to south-central Iraq on 12-month orders. It came home about four months early, due to the end of U.S. troop involvement in the country, after transferring full control of Contingency Operating Base Delta to Iraqi security forces late last month.
There are no U.S. troops left in Wasit province, which was home to troops from Fort Hood's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment before Saber.
"It's very exciting," Wombacher said, her voice cracking as she caught the first glimpse of the soldiers across Cooper Field, newly arrived from Robert Gray Army Airfield. "(I was) missing him like crazy and worried sick."
Wombacher and her two youngest children, Mallory Jones, 17, and Nick Wombacher, 13, drove 14 hours from Missouri to attend the early morning homecoming ceremony for their son and brother, Spc. Kyle Jones.
"Every mile was worth it," the mother said.
Mallory, Nick, and Kyle Jones' wife, Samantha Jones, all held up signs calling their soldier a hero and welcoming him home in glittery, red and blue letters.
Kyle Jones' 17-month-old son, Ayden, gripped onto a sign that read: "I'm here to pick up my daddy!"
Samantha Jones said she and her husband, both 21, moved to Central Texas shortly before his March deployment. It was difficult moving from her native Midwest to be left alone months later. "I thought this day would never come. ... I didn't think we could do it. But we made it work, me and Ayden," she said. That her husband's deployment was cut short, especially in time for the holidays, was "the best Christmas present ever."
Due to the initial uncertainty of the deployment's timeline, Kyle Jones previously had recorded his voice reading a Christmas book. "I was hoping we didn't have to use it," said Samantha Jones, smiling.
Nick said he was proud of his big brother for "just how he was brave enough to go to Iraq and that he survived."
Smiling as the soldiers advanced to the giant 1st Cavalry Division emblem on the field, Mallory said, "He's my hero. He's always been my hero. He's a strong man."
Following a squadron colors-uncasing ceremony, families were cleared to "charge" their soldiers on the field.
With Ayden in her arms, Laura Wombacher let fly a pair of American flag balloons. Seconds later, Kyle Jones emerged from the sand-colored, digital-print storm of uniforms before the family.
"I'm just so happy to be home and see everyone," the soldier said, grinning, assessing the growth of his young son. Upon leaving Iraq for the first and likely last time in his life, he said: "It was great knowing we were finishing up and taking off."
Kyle Jones said he was most looking forward to spending time with his wife in the weeks ahead.
The uncasing, led by squadron commander Lt. Col. Cameron Cantlon and Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Burnette, signalled that most of the squadron has returned from Operation New Dawn, the final stage of the Iraq conflict. About 262 soldiers were on the flight.
In Iraq, the squadron worked to suppress the insurgency, re-established partnerships with Iraqi leaders and assisted national security forces. It also conducted humanitarian aid missions and reconstruction projects.
Since, 2009, when Cantlon last left Iraq, "it had changed," he said. "It had changed a lot. I was happy to see the Iraqis had taken charge."
Cantlon said he was confident the final security and other measures Saber helped solidify could continue without a U.S. presence. "They have everything they need."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.