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Spc. Jesse D. Lenard, a member of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment out of Baumholder, Germany, gets a tearful welcome home from his wife, Traci, and their daughter.

Spc. Jesse D. Lenard, a member of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment out of Baumholder, Germany, gets a tearful welcome home from his wife, Traci, and their daughter. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

BAUMHOLDER, Germany – The curvaceous country road leading to Baumholder is laced with scores of bed sheets and signs that more or less convey the same message: Welcome Home.

One spouse of a 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment soldier devised a playful way to greet her guy. In succession, her signs, spaced about a mile apart, read: Getting warm. Warmer. Really Warm.

In so many ways, Friday marked a memorable moment for the 1st Armored Division. Between now and roughly the end of the month, regular waves of front-line troops are expected to arrive home at their duty station after more than 14 months in Iraq.

The Baumholder military community, which lost 26 soldiers during the deployment, was the first to roll out the red carpet and strike up the band.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see Baumholder come alive,” said Antonio Denson, the incoming sergeant major for the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment.

Denson spoke courtside as he and a couple of hundred family members, friends and colleagues waited for about 150 soldiers to walk into Smith Barrack’s main gymnasium, known as the Hall of Champions. A couple of hours earlier, a similar sized contingent, made up mostly of 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment soldiers, arrived to a heroes welcome.

On this day, Denson wasn’t there to welcome his new charges. Instead, he came to lend moral support to the 1-35 and 1-6. His turn will come later next week.

“It’s a great feeling to see the wives so happy,” he said, looking into the stands.

Like the road leading into town, the gymnasium, and really the entire casern, are festoon with all sorts of messages of support and affection for homebound troops. A regional brewery even got into the act, stringing above a main road in town a welcome home sign.

In the bleachers back at the gym sat 21-year-old Crystal Young. She came with other members of her family to greet her pop, Command Sgt. Major Wayne Andrews. Young brought along a sign for the occasion, which read: “1-6 Hooah!”

Young was all smiles, laughing and joking with a friend while her younger sister worked the family’s home video camera. But when Young was asked what it is she wants her father to know, her emotion changed and she began to cry.

“I want him to know that I love him,” she said as a tear streaked down her left cheek. Young then nodded toward her kid sister and said: “We did a lot of growing up since he was gone.”

For 1st AD troops and their families, the road home got longer this spring when the division was told it would be extended for up to 120 days to quell a series of uprisings in and around Baghdad, as well as in cities south of the capital, such as Najaf and Karbala.

During the extension several Baumholder troops died in combat. Eight soldiers of the 4-27 were killed by a car bomb in Baghdad on April 29. A month later, two soldiers died when their vehicle hit an explosive device the day before Memorial Day.

Capt. James Hoffman, the rear detachment commander for the 1-6, said the two deaths marked the last fatalities suffered by Baumholder’s 2nd Brigade.

“We thought we were going to make it all the way through” the deployment without a fatality, Hoffman somberly said in a telephone interview Thursday.

But on this day, Friday, and for the next few weeks, cheer and relief and happiness will mostly prevail.

After the troops walked into the gymnasium to a thunderous applause, after an invocation and the briefest of speeches, and after the national anthem and Army song, the place erupted. The people in the bleachers rushed out onto the basketball court to touch and feel their spouse or parent or friend.

“They look fabulous, marvelous, beautiful,” 1st Sgt. Desiderio Fierro of Company B, 1-6 Infantry said of his wife, daughter and son.

Several troops spoke of unwinding at home this Fourth of July weekend.

One spouse said she hopes the rain doesn’t stop because she wants to stay home with her hubby.

Fierro’s wife, Vera, plans to whip up a pot of his favorite soup.

Regina brought her dad flowers for the occasion, and Desi Jr. wants to talk to his dad about his future now that he has graduated from high school.

Outside the gym, Sgt. Manolo Gonzalez seemed to be soaking in the cooler temperatures and admiring the lush, green terrain all around him.

Gonzalez said he still has a ways to go before he’s reunited with his wife, Priscilla, who is back in the United States staying with her family.

“I’m just glad to be home,” Gonzalez said before repeating himself.

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