The largest Army Reserve group to leave Utah for Operation Desert Storm is back on American soil Tuesday after spending three months in Germany.
About 600 members of the Salt Lake City-based 328th General Hospital arrived at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and were welcomed by the Fort Carson Army Band, top brass from the 96th Army Reserve Command from Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, and a red carpet lined with well-wishers.Few Utahns were on the ground to meet the group, but that doesn't mean their not-quite homecoming wasn't treated like a homecoming.
Dozens of Colorado Springs residents stood on the tarmac and waved flags and banners to welcome the first group of Utahns, who arrived Monday at about 5:30 p.m. A few stalwarts returned hours later when the balance of the group touched down Tuesday at 1 a.m.
Pat Lancios and several other Colorado Springs residents who have formed a group called MOMs - Mothers of the Military - either shook hands or hugged virtually every soldier that got off the planes. Each member of MOMs has a son still participating in Operation Desert Storm who will be returning home to a base far from Colorado. Their hope is that mothers in Kentucky and elsewhere will give their sons the same warm welcome when they return.
A cheering crowd also greeted both planes during a brief stop in Maine and plastered the soldiers with flags, yellow ribbons and even stuffed animals.
Each group that will demobilize at Fort Carson is also being given a police escort through town between the Air Force base and the Army fort, said Lt. Col. John Mims, a public affairs spokesman at Fort Carson. The route is the same each time, and area residents have gotten so they go outside their houses and watch for the parades, Mims said.
Being so close to home - but not quite there - is frustrating for many of the hospital's members - and for their families.
A handful of the hospital company's family members drove to Colorado Springs to meet the group. Some hope to spirit their spouses away at the end of a debriefing process that could last as long as five days, but the Army's official word is that all soldiers, once finished with the demobilization process, will travel together by bus back to Salt Lake.
Others are glad just to be on American soil. Sand from Saudi Arabia has become a popular souvenir from the gulf war, but Sgt. Michael Smith from Kearns said he might "grab a handful of American dirt" to take home.
Staff Sgt. Randall Summers remembers returning from Vietnam and being told not to wear his uniform at the airport or he would get spit on. He said he was glad to get a second chance to feel welcome when coming home after serving his country.
And now that the war is over, Sgt. Kevin Rowland, a nurse from Roosevelt, wishes he had been sent to Saudi Arabia rather than being left in Germany to fill jobs in American military installations vacated by their active-duty counterparts who were sent to the Middle East. But now he has a bathroom at home that needs work and a "honey-do" list of things around the house that have gone undone in his absence.
An official homecoming at Fort Douglas is planned as soon as the post's officials find out when the group is scheduled to be released from Fort Carson.
10 return home
Some members of the Utah Air National Guard's Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron have returned home from duty in Operation Desert Storm.
Early Sunday a welcoming crowd of more than 100 people greeted a group of 10 tired but grateful Guard members who have served since Jan. 15 in Moron, Spain, providing phase inspection for Guard, Reserve and active duty KC-135 tankers involved in the Persian Gulf conflict.
An additional 13 members of the maintenance squadron remain in Spain, providing tanker maintenance. They are expected home in mid-April.
More than 200 Utah Air Guardsmen from nine different units were involved at some point in active-duty service in support of Operation Desert Storm.