Ana Soria of Muscatine, Iowa, sat at the edge of her seat, hardly able to contain her excitement.
Her only child, 21-year-old Spc. Mario Franco, was on his way home Wednesday, returning with about
70 other soldiers after a year of deployment with a Davenport-based Iowa National Guard unit.
And Soria joined in the chaos, with all its whoops, cheers, hugs and tears, that erupted as the soldiers were dismissed from duty at a ceremony in the auditorium of Vickie Anne Palmer Hall on the campus of Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport.
The return of the soldiers from Company A Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, comes within days of the one-year anniversary of their Aug. 1, 2010, deployment to Camp Shelby, Miss., then to Afghanistan in November.
A few minutes after she spotted her son, Soria began pushing through the crowd, rushing down the stairs toward him as he was taking a photo of her as she approached. Instead of waiting to reach the floor where he stood, she leaned over the railing to finally hug her son, as both of them cried.
“It’s awesome,” Franco said about seeing his family again. “It feels good.”
The unit returned without sustaining any casualties or serious injuries, said Staff Sgt. Jacob Hunter of Bettendorf. In Afghanistan, the unit was split and stationed throughout the country in support of different missions.
“Unfortunately, there are always casualties and injuries in war,” he said.
This unit was fortunate.
“I owe it to the key leaders and training for how well this unit excelled at its mission,” he said.
Family members admitted to plenty of worry, especially when they read news of a fallen soldier.
“I worried about him,” Ashley Drumm of Davenport said of her husband, Sgt. Jacob Drumm, “but I believe in him so much, I knew it would be OK.”
Standing behind a large welcome-home sign and a row of her family members in the auditorium, Cecilia Buehl of Maquoketa, Iowa, was ready for the wait to end.
Her 20-year-old son, Justin Brundage, was coming home, and she planned to surprise him with a dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, where she said the manager agreed to open the restaurant early to accommodate the family.
Meanwhile, in a sea of people waiting for their loved ones, four women sat alongside them without knowing anyone in the troop.
Mary Allred, Marcia Murray, Jen Costello and Juana Ritter — co-workers at Quad-City Testing in Mount Joy, Iowa — said their supervisor, Fran Adams, allowed them to attend the ceremony in the middle of their work day.
Costello said she wanted to experience the homecoming after hearing some of the soldiers being interviewed on the radio. The ceremony had added meaning to them because of the military’s connection to their supervisor.
Adams’ 27-year-old son, Marine Sgt. Matthew Adams, died in late July 2004 in a Humvee accident during a training exercise at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, Calif. He was a full-time Marine who was training reservists for deployment in Iraq.
The co-workers said they were excited to see the Quad-City area soldiers be reunited with their families.
“We really appreciate what they do for us,” Murray said about the soldiers’ service.
Many of the soldiers were returning to young sons and daughters after nearly nine months spent in Afghanistan.
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Laura Rempe gently lifted her 4-month-old granddaughter, Riley Ray, onto her lap and smiled. The baby, dressed in red, white and blue, was about to be reunited with her daddy, Sgt. Toby Ray of Anamosa, Iowa.
“She’s excited, too,” his wife, Brittany Ray, said about their infant daughter.
Ashley Drumm’s husband missed 19-month-old son Keaton’s first birthday and, after the ceremony, he was trying to wrestle the shoes back on the feet of 3-month-old Landon.
“It is exciting and overwhelming all at the same time,” Jacob Drumm said, saying that being away on birthdays and Christmas was the most difficult part of the deployment.
His wife told him, “you will be changing so many diapers now.”
Pfc. Ruben Galvan of West Liberty, Iowa, was welcomed home by his 9-month-old daughter, Makinley.
“It is weird to be home,” he said. “I’m going to get used to her.”
David Watt, of Davenport, held his 4-month-old son, Hayden. It was the second time he had seen him since his birth.
Galvan, whose family sent him off while wearing matching T-shirts saying “We love you, Ruben,” were more subdued this time. Galvan’s mother, Maria Galvan, said his grandmother was recently hospitalized, so the welcome home, while still sweet, was more subdued. She noticed her son lost about 50 pounds during the deployment.
“It was tough,” Maria Galvan said. “It was a long year, but we got through it.”