Tuesday, August 12, 2003

The 3rd Infantry Division soldiers who stormed Baghdad flew home Monday, completing a nine-month deployment to the Persian Gulf.

The last of the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team landed at Hunter Army Airfield to turn in their weapons and the rest of their combat gear before being reunited with their families.

Only the division's 1st Brigade remains in Iraq, and it is scheduled to begin heading home in the next few weeks.

The division's soldiers were the first to cross into Baghdad on April 7, then held the city until they were reinforced by Marines three days later.

The unit's A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment was on the next-to-last flight carrying the brigade home. When those soldiers stepped off the plane, many broke into tears.

Spc. Deandrea Harris of Ozark, Ala., dropped to the tarmac in full combat gear and hugged the ground.

"It's so good to be home," the 23-year-old said.

Staff Sgt. Thomas Slago, a Bradley fighting vehicle commander with the company, codenamed Attack, called out for his former driver who was wounded in a firefight south of Baghdad.

"Sciria, Sciria!" he called. When Pvt. 1st Class Robert Sciria of Buffalo, N.Y., came jogging up, Slago hugged him and both men began crying.

"That's my buddy right there, he saved my life," said Slago, of Los Angeles. "He's my hero."

The infantrymen flew home on a chartered Delta Airlines flight decorated with red, white and blue streamers, U.S. flags and yellow ribbons. After months in the desert, surrounded by camouflage and olive drab, the soldiers smiled broadly at the flight attendants as they boarded the plane...

"The cycle of life is complete," said Tom Slago, himself wounded in the battle for Baghdad. "We left here, and now we're back here."

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