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Erich Schlegel, Associated Press
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Elama Palemene is kissed by his wife Annaden, right, and children Ko' Elani, left, and Pe' Ela during an early morning welcome home ceremony for about 300 U.S. Army 1st Cavalry 2nd Brigade soldiers returning home from deployment in Iraq at Fort Hood, TX, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011.

FORT HOOD, Texas — Nearly 300 soldiers among the last U.S. combat troops returning from Iraq have been greeted with their loved ones' cheers and hugs at Fort Hood.

The troops tightly embraced spouses, children and other relatives who had waited on the Texas Army post for their 3 a.m. arrival Sunday. The soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division said they were glad to be home before Christmas — and relieved to be out of Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Elama Palemene hugged his wife and two young daughters after returning from his fourth deployment.

Palemene's group was among many returning to Fort Hood in recent weeks — one nearly every day — because of the troop withdrawal, said Staff Sgt. Jefferson VanWey, a 1st Cavalry spokesman.

Palemene said he was happy upon hearing the news that the very last U.S. combat troops rolled out of Iraq across the border into neighboring Kuwait at daybreak Sunday. Their convoy's exit marked the end of a bitterly divisive war that raged for nearly nine years and left Iraq shattered, with troubling questions lingering over whether the Arab nation will remain a steadfast U.S. ally.

Palemene said he hopes the country remembers that U.S. troops are still fighting in Afghanistan.