FORT STEWART, Ga. - Family Members defied the cold and the early morning hours to welcome home Soldiers with 3rd Infantry Division's Special Troops Battalion and 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, at Cottrell Field on Fort Stewart, Oct. 16.

Bonnie Tillson was shivering as she waited in the bleachers for the buses with the returning troops. Her husband, Pfc. Benjamin Tillson, was on one of those buses.

"In many ways, it's unreal," she said. "It was hard, because we got married six days before he left. It's exciting that he's coming back, and we'll get to be together again."

Over the past two weeks, Spartan Soldiers of 2nd HBCT, 3rd ID have been rapidly redeploying and reuniting with Family Members and loved ones on Cottrell Field at Fort Stewart.

Having successfully completed a year-long tour in northern Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, these warriors, according to 1st Lt. Trey Brooks, Company C, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd HBCT, 3rd ID, are happier than ever to finally be home.

"It doesn't feel quite real yet - I guess it's going to have to sink in a little," said 1st Lt. Brooks. "I haven't been home since six months ago on (rest and relaxation); I know the other Soldiers are overjoyed to be here as well."

Olivia Branch, wife of 1st Sgt. Timothy Branch, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 26th BSB, 2nd HBCT, 3rd ID, said though being a combat spouse can be difficult at times, especially during deployments, her and her Family weathered the deployment just fine.

"Being away from my husband this long has, of course, been trying but with support from my church, the kids and I have been making it just fine," said Olivia. "Our (Family readiness group) was also very helpful. Talking to him whenever we could also made the months go by a little faster; I'm just glad this one is done."

First Sergeant Branch said he was very excited to see his wife as well as his kids, but completing the mission in Iraq also left a great feeling in his heart.

"This was our sixth deployment so even though this wasn't new for our Family, it got a little trying at times," he said. "It just feels great to be home, but also it feels better to know that we took care of the mission in Iraq, and I was able to bring all my Soldiers home to rejoin their Families."

Mike Keating was one of the volunteers with Chapter 789, Vietnam Veterans of America, who greeted the Soldiers, Oct. 16.

"We meet every flight returning (from) overseas and have done so since the unit has started deploying [in 2003,]" he said.

He added that Vietnam Veterans never had a welcome home ceremony, and he is one of many individuals who want to make sure that every Soldier has a proper welcome home ceremony when returning from a combat zone.

"We appreciate what you've done and what you've gone through for the past year," he added. "We honor your service. I feel privileged to be out here. Welcome home."

Sergeant First Class Curtis Halford, in charge of retention operations for 3rd ID, was one of the Soldiers who returned home to his Family.

"It feels outstanding to be home," he said. "It's been a long year. I've missed my Family very much."

Soldiers with the 2nd HBCT, DSTB and 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade - who have been in Afghanistan for the past year - will continue to deploy in the next few weeks. Soldiers of the 1st HBCT will being to redeploy at the end of November.