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SALT LAKE CITY — Last Summer, the National Guard unit known as the "Triple Deuce," otherwise known as the 222nd Field Artillery Battalion, left their families and made their way from Southern Utah to Iraq. Friday, amid tears and hugs, some of them returned home.
They've missed birthdays. They've missed anniversaries and ball games. Today, it's a reunion for soldiers like Christopher Burgess and his wife Esther.
"It feels really good to be back home with my family," Sgt. Burgess said.
"I am very proud of him, he's my hero and I'm just so glad to have him home," said Esther Burgess.
The 474 members of the Utah National Guard's 222nd Field Artillery Battalion that deployed to Iraq in June may all be home by Christmas.
The battalion, mostly from units in southern Utah, mobilized in June and was supposed to be gone for a year. But the White House said all troops would be out of Iraq by the end of the year, and the Army has been sending members of Utah's "Triple Deuce" home in small groups as their individual assignments have been completed.
About 30 returned a week ago; about 35 more flew in on three different flights on Friday
Burgess mother was on hand, to salute her son as he got off the plane.
"I am very proud of my son. I cannot tell you how proud I am of him for going over to the Middle East and serving and doing what he has to," said Lisa Soper.
The mission in Iraq has changed dramatically since the 222nd left last year and the Triple Deuce is coming back to Utah in waves. Today, fittingly, it's the second group to return - about 35 soldiers. The 222nd deployed in 2003, initially bound for Iraq but was redirected to Fort Lewis, Wash.
Then the battalion deployed to Iraq in 2005. The frequent deployments take a toll on young families, which makes it all that much sweeter to be home now.
Burgess' mother knows this, and praises Esther burgess for all the work she has up in while her husband was gone.
"It's really hard. In some cases they're being the mom and the dad. Everything and in Esther's case she's been the mom and dad, she's my hero.
Lt. Col. Adam Robinson, the executive officer in the battalion's higher headquarters, said some elements of the battalion may come home in big blocks while others will be returning in smaller groups the size of the first two now home. If the current schedule holds, that means having everyone home by Christmas.
But when the Army is involved, it's important not to forget that "if," Robinson said. "We hope to have them all back before the holidays, but it is the Army, and the needs of the Army will be met."
"What an honor for them to be able to come home and spend some time with their families during the holidays," said Lt. Colonel Adam Robinson.
Debi Williams first expected that an early return meant she would see her husband, Sgt. Michael Williams, in January. But she said the news kept getting better. Now he is home for Thanksgiving, Christmas — and their first wedding anniversary in three weeks.
The artillery battalion has not been shooting cannons, but rather has been performing security operations in and around Baghdad.
The 222nd deployed in 2003, initially bound for Iraq but redirected to Fort Lewis, Wash. Then the battalion deployed to Iraq in 2005 and several times since.
Members of the "Triple Deuce" know they could be redeployed elsewhere, but at this point they're home for the holidays and they hope they're home to stay.