By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

With their children a year older and with their commanders admonishing them to make readjustments slow and easy, 280 soldiers of the 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division double-timed into Starker Gymnasium at Fort Hood as their families ran out of the bleachers to greet them.

They were the first of 550 soldiers to return from a year of duty in Iraq on Sunday night. Elements of the 1st Brigade were to return shortly.

A sign on the wall said, "Warning: Very Loud Music Playing During All Homecomings," and disc jockeys carried out the threat an hour before the soldiers' arrival as young women danced on the gym floor and a sergeant drilled a company of children in racing around the floor of the gym single-file with miniature flags raised high. Many children wore little Santa suits.

The soldiers ran in the doors single file, and here and there a wife would spot her man, run to him and yank him out of the line to kiss him.

He would have to break away and find another place to run toward a formation. With all the soldiers in and the music quieted for a minute, the division's rear detachment commander, Col. Dick Francey, greeted the troops and told them to expect to see changes in things besides the children's sizes since they left a year ago. He cautioned them to take time to readjust.

The soldiers seemed jet-lagged and dazed. Few had anything to say except to their families. Staff Sgt. Dharwin Delarna said they had only left Baghdad 18 hours ago, but he said it felt wonderful to be back.

Lt. Col. Victor Harmon of the 704th Support Battalion said, "I can't even begin to articulate how it felt to be there and how it feels to be back."

The party-like atmosphere before the soldiers arrived quickly took on the air of a bus station as the soldiers fell out of formation and reunited families left the building and went home within a few minutes after they were dismissed.

Outside, they got their first glimpse of Christmas decorations already on the fort's buildings.

Contact Don Bolding at

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