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Lonnie Leatherbery, background, points at the buses carrying 54th Engineer Battalion soldiers as they returned from Iraq on Tuesday.

Lonnie Leatherbery, background, points at the buses carrying 54th Engineer Battalion soldiers as they returned from Iraq on Tuesday. (Rick Emert / S&S)

Lonnie Leatherbery, background, points at the buses carrying 54th Engineer Battalion soldiers as they returned from Iraq on Tuesday.

Lonnie Leatherbery, background, points at the buses carrying 54th Engineer Battalion soldiers as they returned from Iraq on Tuesday. (Rick Emert / S&S)

Sgt. Thomas Carbaugh hugs his wife, Victoria, and their daughter Tuesday as soldiers from the 54th Engineer Battalion returned to Bamberg.

Sgt. Thomas Carbaugh hugs his wife, Victoria, and their daughter Tuesday as soldiers from the 54th Engineer Battalion returned to Bamberg. (Rick Emert / S&S)

Lonnie Leatherbery hugs her husband, Staff Sgt. Timothy Leatherbery, shortly after he stepped off the bus.

Lonnie Leatherbery hugs her husband, Staff Sgt. Timothy Leatherbery, shortly after he stepped off the bus. (Rick Emert / S&S)

BAMBERG, Germany — Christmas came early for the families of about 300 soldiers from the 54th Engineer Battalion who returned Tuesday and Wednesday from a 10-month deployment to Iraq.

Screaming, cheering and crying family members greeted the equally teary-eyed soldiers as they stepped off commercial buses that carried them from Ramstein Air Base home to Warner Barracks.

“This is awesome; I’m so excited,” said Lonnie Leatherbery, wife of Staff Sgt. Timothy Leatherbery, before the buses arrived. “We’ve been married for two years and have spent only four months of that time together. I get to restart my honeymoon now.”

“I’m excited,” said Angie Kitchens as she awaited the return of her husband, Spc. Brian Kitchens. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet that he is really on the way home.”

The tears that fell on the parking lot where the buses unloaded Tuesday were not the first the families had shed during the deployment.

Leatherbery, who said that as a Family Readiness Group leader she had to “stay focused,” said the time apart was still “very hard and very lonely.”

“I have an 8-year-old son, and we don’t have any family here except each other,” she said. “There was a lot of crying at night and being strong and supportive during the day.”

Families learned before Thanksgiving that the soldiers were on their way home, but no specific date was given, Leatherbery said. Last week the date of the return was set for the weekend, but the soldiers were delayed and returned a few days later. The delay almost cost Angela Wagner the chance to see her son.

Wagner and another son, Daniel Ladislas, traveled from Corydon, Iowa, to greet her son, Spc. Louis Ladislas, when he returned to Warner Barracks. However, she said, her tickets required that she fly back Sunday. After several phone calls to the airline, Wagner was able to change her flight arrangements.

Wagner had also visited Bamberg before the deployment to send her son off to Iraq.

“I wanted to meet the people in his unit, the guys he would be fighting with,” she said. “I just had to make sure they would take care of my son, and I got the impression that they were a great bunch of guys. That was good for my peace of mind.”

She said it was a long 10 months as she waited for his return.

“It really has been hard, being so isolated,” Wagner said. “We became CNN junkies. There isn’t anything in place to keep the families back home informed.”

Wagner eventually subscribed to the battalion’s FRG newsletter and got periodic updates on her son’s unit.

Louis Ladislas knew nothing of the visit until he stepped off the bus and saw his mother and brother waiting for him.

“I really thought it was important to be here,” Wagner said. “I didn’t want my son to get off that bus and have no one here to hug him.”

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