By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Alaena Pecoraro stood at the edge of Cooper Field with her two young daughters on Christmas Eve.
They braced themselves against the chilly temperatures, waiting for the white buses carrying nearly 200 soldiers. Brightly colored letters on the sign the family created to welcome home Sgt. Mitchell Pecoraro were beginning to run in the drizzling rain.
"It's all worth it to have him home for Christmas," she said. "I got a call from him at 4:30 this morning, and I've been awake ever since."
The Pecoraros were one of several families who endured the early-winter cold on Christmas Eve to welcome back members of the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, after being deployed nearly 11 months in Iraq.
"It was awesome to know that I was going to be back in time for Christmas," said the sergeant. "It's the best Christmas present."
One of the soldier's daughters, Danielle, agreed. "It's the best present ever," said the 5-year-old. "I'm going to wrap him up with a big bow."
The Christmas Eve homecoming marked a significant moment, not just for the reuniting families, but in the history of the U.S. military's involvement in Iraq. The battalion's soldiers were among the last troops to leave the country on Dec. 18.
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Jack Vantress described the elation and relief he and other members of the unit felt as they crossed the border into Kuwait.
"As we started to cross, there was that rush of adrenaline and excitement," said Vantress.
The celebration was not just about leaving Iraq and returning home for the holidays, but the completion of the battalion's mission.
"I felt like we made history," said Mitchell Pecoraro.
Col. Philip Battaglia, the division's rear detachment commander, voiced a similar sentiment as he spoke to the troops at the homecoming ceremony. "Welcome home heroes," he said. "We are proud of your service and a job well done in Iraq."
Just days after the last American troops left Iraq, violence erupted in the country.
A wave explosions ripped through Baghdad last Thursday, killing 60 and injuring hundreds more.
Despite the recent unrest and fears of sectarian strife returning to the country, Vantress maintained that the battalion had done its job and prepared the Iraqi forces to meet their country's security needs.
"We are confident in the job we did, and believe that the Iraqi army is able to take over the job," said Vantress. "We did the job we were asked to do, and we did it well."
Mitchell Pecoraro echoed similar feelings about the completion of the battalion's mission. "It is in their hands now," he said. "We did our mission and we did it well. I think we left them in a good position, and now it is up to them to continue that work."
Contact Chris McGuinness at email@example.com or (254) 501-7568.