National Guard unit returns from Iraq

August 6, 2009 5:39:23 PM PDT
More than 80 soldiers who served in Iraq returned to the Bay Area. They're with the California National Guard First Battalion and they arrived in San Jose on Thursday.

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After nearly a year in Iraq, this is one of the most difficult assignments -- mothers and fathers in a room with their children holding formation, longing to hold their family.

For Corporal Sondra Orchard from Hayward, this moment couldn't come soon enough.

"It was hard. All I wanted to do was give them a hug and kiss," she said.

Corporal Orchard spent her tour in a supply warehouse, but most of these National Guard soldiers such as Specialist Jacob Rodriguez were part of convoy security in Iraq, an often dangerous mission and there were no hiding emotions today.

"It's a lot of months of worrying and waiting and I'm just grateful he's home," said mother Patricia Wieneke.

The battalion was based primarily in Mosul and conducted more than 2,000 operations. They came under attack from small arms fire and improvised explosive devices.

"There were a few IED's on my convoy but I reacted like I was supposed to and felt safe and secure," said Specialist Rodriguez.

The soldiers say the region is getting safer and are grateful everyone in their battalion came home.

"The danger is still out there, you just can't be complacent because if you get complacent you'll get hurt out there," said Specialist Alex Zonio from the Army National Guard.

Despite some unrest, there is optimism democracy is taking shape.

"Finally Iraqi's are getting a hold of their country and I think they'll be ready for the deadline next year," said Sgt. Eric Hernandez from the Army National Guard.

Almost everyone in the 185th Armored Regiment will be honored with a combat infantry badge, but the best reward for serving their country is coming home.

"It's been a long time coming. My beautiful wife, I miss her so much, so I am happy we are finally back together," said Specialist Angelo Garza from the Army National Guard.

That feeling is echoed from Corporal Orchard and her daughters to Specialist Rodriguez and his fiancé.

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