TASZÁR, Hungary — This weekend, the final unit of the 1st Armored Division is expected to say farewell to Bosnia and Herzegovina as it crosses the Sava River into Croatia on its way home.

Since October, about 12,000 1st Armored Division troops and other servicemembers have begun the trek out of Bosnia, creating a steady stream of troops hungry for home after nearly a year in the Balkans.

Thousands already have had happy homecomings with family and friends, but thousands of others are still in the process of making the long journey home. Troops winding their way out of Bosnia may be dreaming of the moment they finally take off their boots at their own front door — but as convoys pull away for the last time from the camp or base they called home, nearly two weeks of redeployment processing await.

"As you get out of theater, you can't go anywhere without tracking soil, so we wash the vehicles along the way," said Sgt. Joseph Cook of Company C, 501st Forward Support Battalion, returning to Friedberg, Germany. "We did a lot of maintenance downrange, but as long as you keep it up it makes the transition easier.

"It's necessary. It makes sure we're ready for our next mission, wherever that may be."

Life slowly improves as convoys move north. The repaired bridge at Slavonski Brod, Croatia, makes it the primary route for troops and equipment crossing the Sava River. Units spend up to four days at the staging base there, cleaning and repairing: vehicles and equipment and waiting for their turn to continue on the busy route north to Taszár.

"It's a long, hard march from here to Taszár," said Maj. Mark Davis, with the 1st Armored Division's Redeployment Operations Cell at Slavonski Brod.

At the end of the nine-hour drive to the base, soldiers turn in personal ammunition and secure weapons in arms rooms. At Taszár, they clean and maintain vehicles one last time before loading them onto rail cars for shipment to Germany. They pack away their Kevlar helmets and flak vests and finish administrative processing and medical screenings.

"The troops are tired but generally healthy," said Lt. Col. Bradley Harper, commander of the 67th Combat Support Hospital (Forward). "There is usually some grumbling, but they'll do whatever it takes to get home. I've never had such cooperative patients in my life."

Waiting in lines fills much of the time spent at Taszár. Waiting at the wash rack, waiting to load vehicles on the rail cars, and counting rounds of ammunition also take many of the hours.

And much of the tedium is frustrating to soldiers who just want to get home.

"It's a good idea to bring the units here, but seven days is too long. It's needed to get the soldiers into a normal routine and leave all the Bosnia stuff behind, but there is a lot of wasted time here," said Staff Sgt. Fausto Gomez, with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.

To balance the boredom, activities in the Life Support Area at Taszár begin to resemble the freedom that awaits at home.

There are most of the comforts of a community anywhere. The only difference is that the structures are all tents and temporary facilities.

There's a post office, a bank (better known as the finance office), a fire department, a chapel, fast-food restaurants, a theater, a gymnasium and an exchange,

As many as 4,700 redeploying soldiers can take up residence here, spending their final week of Operation Joint Endeavor on cots in heated tents with wooden floors. The large fest tent that serves as a readiness processing center by day becomes a community gathering place at night, where at long last troops can enjoy the simple pleasure of a cold beer.

"It would be nice to finally be home with my family, but we still have 10 or 12 days of recovery to do there, too," said Sgt. Joe Williams of Company C, 440th Signal Battalion.

Williams and other soldiers from the Darmstadt, Germany-based unit recently played yet another game of cards to pass the time.

."But it's all good," said Staff Sgt. Woody Woodward. "We've got to be here anyway and it will be 10 days before we can take block leave.

"Some day this will all be over and I'll be home."

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now