FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas --- A ceremony here characterized with relatively few words but many cheers, welcomed Soldiers from the 201st Military Intelligence Battalion returning home from Iraq the morning of Dec. 9.

The 201st MI Bn., a subordinate unit of the 470th MI Brigade, had deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for 15 months.

Earlier in the day, Soldiers arrived to San Antonio aboard a chartered aircraft to Kelly Field at Lackland Air Force Base.

They were first greeted by Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, commander, Fort Sam Houston and Army Medical Department Center and School; Lt. Col. Michael Pappas, deputy commander, 470th MI Bde.; Command Sgt. Maj. George Range III, 470th MI Bde. and Command Sgt. Maj. Howard Riles, AMEDD&S and Fort Sam Houston.

Travel orders prevented Col. Cheryl Harris the 470th MI Brigade commander from being present to welcome her troops home personally.

Buses brought the Soldiers to the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center on Fort Sam Houston, where Families, friends and fellow Soldiers waited. To make the waiting a little easier, the unit's Family Readiness Group provided refreshments in decorated surroundings, and the U.S. Army Medical Command Band ensemble performed musical selections.

At last, the Soldiers filed in through an arch of yellow balloons to loud cheers from the bleachers. After the Soldiers "formed up" into companies, the battalion's command team, Lt. Col. John Strycula and Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Mason, formally uncased the unit's colors, symbolizing its return to home station.

From the lectern, Czerw thanked the Soldiers for their "selfless service and personal sacrifices," and he recognized them for accomplishing their interrogation mission at Bucca and Camp Cropper in Iraq by supporting the Joint Detention and Interrogation Center there.

"Each of you played a pivotal role in the Global War on Terrorism," said the general. "Your successes have proven the benefits of sending a single, cohesive unit to support the JDIC." He added that their successes established the standard for other battalions that will continue the JDIC's mission.

Addressing the Families, Czerw praised them for helping their Soldiers during their deployment.

"Every spouse and significant other has endured the rigors of Family separation while keeping their Soldiers in their hearts and prayers," he said. "You are true heroes."

After Czerw concluded his brief speech, Strycula took charge of his unit and delivered one order: "Fall out!" With those two words, the bleachers emptied as Family members scrambled to make contact with their Soldier.

Sgt. 1st Class Elvin Blen of the 201st was looking for just one person: his fiancAfAe, Elsa. They had been apart for the entire 15 months although, he said, they stayed in regular contact by telephone.

"The hardest part was not being able to go home at the end of the day and talk to someone," said Blen. "I was keeping things all bottled up."

Among Family members, traveling long distances to welcome Soldiers home, were Evelyn and Frank Smith, from South Carolina. They were here with their granddaughter to greet her husband of about 10 years, Capt. Gualberto Marrero, who exemplifies many Soldiers' dedication since 9/11.

"This was my first deployment with the 201st, but my third deployment to Iraq," said Marrero, a member of the battalion for the last two of his 13 years in the military. He added that he had also deployed to Afghanistan three times.

Sgt. David Reed also deployed overseas prior to joining the 201st MI Bn. three years ago. That was just after he and his wife, Katie, married. They have been apart for a sizeable percentage of their married life, but at this time, it didn't seem to matter.

"It just feels wonderful to be home," exclaimed Reed.

When asked how she felt to have her husband home, Katie Reed responded with just one word, "Awesome!"

(Gregory Ripps works in the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade Public Affairs)