WIESBADEN, Germany — Family, friends and even Santa Claus packed the stands of the Wiesbaden Fitness Center on Saturday to watch a group of 1st Armored Division soldiers return home following an almost yearlong deployment to Iraq.

The crowd screamed and waved homemade banners as more than 250 soldiers from the ‘Old Ironsides’ headquarters filed into the gymnasium. Most of the approximate 900 troops that deployed with the headquarters have arrived home, with the remaining groups scheduled to return early this week.

“This is awesome, after 12 months you couldn’t ask for more,” said Spc. Jose Velez who was greeted by his wife, Alene, and daughters, Ashley and Alanys.

Spc. Paul Ward was all smiles as he embraced fiancée, Anna Tögel.

“It’s the best…we’re getting married in nine days,” he said.

The headquarters served in an advisory and training role for the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar, a former hotbed of insurgency that prior to 1st AD was under the jurisdiction of the Marines.

“First Armored Division feels very good about the accomplishments ... we were able to work together with the Iraqi security forces,” said 1st AD deputy commander Brig. Gen. Ralph Baker, who was among the group that returned Saturday.

The unit trained more than six Iraqi security divisions and three area commands during the deployment. The 1st AD also was responsible for decreasing the number of U.S. bases in Baghdad and Anbar from 57 to nine. It moved 1.2 million pieces of American equipment from the country.

“It’s frankly extremely satisfying to watch (Iraqis) do it their own way, even if it’s not necessarily the way we would’ve chosen to do it,” said 1st AD deputy commander Brig. Gen. Kenneth Tovo, who was the division’s leader in Anbar province.

“We spent the better part of our time this year trying to work the U.S. military out of a job in terms of economic, political and military efforts,” Baker said.

He added that although the Iraqis are on a positive path, they still have lots of work to do in both the political and security arenas to ensure the Iraqis can handle it independently when U.S. forces leave the country next year.

“The U.S. military has given them every opportunity to be successful in the future,” said Baker.

The 1st AD headquarters will be spending the next few months preparing for another move, this time to Fort Bliss, Texas. ‘Old Ironsides’ is congressionally mandated to call Fort Bliss its home by mid-June.

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