A crowd of nearly 2,500 people, including Gov. Norm Bangerter, welcomed 150 members of the 419th Transportation Company with balloons and American flags galore Tuesday evening.
The company, part of the 96th U.S. Army Reserve, spent nearly six months in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield/Storm. One unit member said he's seen all of the Middle East he wants to. The group was welcomed at Hudson General Aviation at the Salt Lake International Airport.Raymond Doyle, a 41-year-old staff surgeon from Sandy, said it's wonderful to be home. "It's nice to reach out and touch a woman," he said. "It's nice to see green shrubbery, green mountains and green grass. Everything in Saudi Arabia is white sand, brown sand and camels; herds of camels who spit at you if you try to take a picture of them."
The company drove trucks that supplied food, gas, small arms and medical supplies to the troops. Doyle said the reason the unit's homecoming was delayed so long was because they had to prevent Iraq's Republican Guard from using oil fields.
The soldiers left Saudi Arabia at 5 a.m. Sunday and went though two days of debriefing in Fort Lewis, Wash., before returning to Salt Lake City. They were allowed to go straight home with their families.
Mike Oakason, a 27-year-old from Sandy, traveled home with his girlfriend, 24-year-old Melissa Melcher from Sunset, who was also in the unit. She said it was rough to be there together.
Oakason said that after the war began they were separated for seven days. "She was up near the front lines; 48 hours behind the war. I was pretty concerned for her safety," he said.
Oakason's sister, Shelly, said they "made it all the way home and they're still in love."
Oakason said the first thing he's going to do is spend time with his family, take a month or so off, eat good food and enjoy the freedom of "doing what I want to do."
Evelyn Oakason, Mike's mother, said she feels "like I've never felt before; just beautiful. I'm a proud, proud mother."