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BÖBLINGEN, Germany — Some guys already wanted to go back.

Back to the rocks and dust, to the chow halls and bootleg DVDs, to carrying a weapon and sleeping in dirt.

“The money’s good, and nobody messes with you,” said Spc. Joshua Kelly.

“There’s a greater sense of family down there, too,” added Spc. Zach Thomson.

And it’s a good way to bank $20,000, at least, they said, since there’s no way to spend salaries that are fattened by extra combat pay.

Kelly and Thomson, of 554th Military Police Company, were among those who returned in the past week from a one-year tour in eastern Afghanistan. The last 22 soldiers from the unit came back Thursday.

Thursday’s returnees endured a brief ceremony at the Panzer Casern gymnasium and were turned loose.

Kelly, Thomson and their mates landed at Ramstein Air Base last Friday in the wee hours of the morning. But instead of going their own ways or rampaging around the base, they were hanging in the barracks with their buds.

“Everybody wanted to go out and party, but me and Thomson threw a karaoke party in our room so nobody would be going out and getting in trouble,” said Spc. Diamond Hansel.

It wasn’t just any karaoke party, though; it was a pajama-karaoke party.

“We all went to the mall and got robes and slippers,” Hansel said. “We had to wear the uniform all year, so we got robes and slippers to be the most comfortable we could be.”

It would have made Garth Brooks proud, since the undisputed hit of the party was Brooks’ 1990 hit, “Friends in Low Places.”

The 554th soldiers, as well as troops from the 230th MP Company in Kaiserslautern who were attached to the 554th, have to go through seven days of reintegration training to get their heads and lives readjusted.

“This is not the Wild West, where you’ve been living for a year,” said Capt. Jay Cash, operations officer for Army Garrison Stuttgart, which hosts the reintegration program. “Now it’s back to normalcy.”

That includes not going overboard on things that soldiers have been missing, such as alcohol and freedom, Cash said.

Upon returning, and after the brief ceremony in the Panzer gym, many got running hugs from loved ones. Some didn’t get a hug at all.

“I’ve already seen all the people I care about,” said Spc. Zach Franks. His mates from the company, who had been spread around eastern Afghanistan, had a reunion at Bagram Air Base before flying back to Germany.

“These are friends who have been my friends since I got here,” Franks said.

Others were heading to the States for their hugs.

“Seeing my son (16-month-old Vinny), that’s the biggest thing,” said Spc. Edward Hinsberger. “I’ve seen him for six weeks total since he was born.”

Young guns such as Kelly, Thomson and Hansel said they’d raise their hand in a minute for another year in Afghanistan or Iraq. Time flies down there if you’re busy, they said.

“You miss girls,” Hansel said. “That’s about it.”


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