BY LUIS RAMIREZ –  Thousands of troops have been returning to bases in the United States as Washington completes its drawdown of forces in Iraq.  At Fort Hood in the U.S. State of Texas, where planeloads of soldiers have been arriving ahead of a December 31st deadline to withdraw from Iraq.

Home for the holidays, with a hero’s welcome.  This was the last of several deployments in Iraq for U.S. Army Major Mike Williams. “It’s a sensational experience and the feeling is, I guess, of euphoria,” he said.

Williams is one of the tens of thousands leaving Iraq after President Obama’s decision to bring home the troops by the end of the year.

After eight years and with more than 4,000 Americans killed, troops are back on home soil. Thousands are returning to Fort Hood alone, turning in their guns, and preparing for life at home.

The smell of freshly baked Christmas cookies, and hugs from his children mean for Williams that he is home, and this time he can plan to stay for some time.

His wife, Royann, has been on her own with the children.  She says she is not sure if this was the right time for U.S forces to leave Iraq but she savors the moment of her husband’s return.

“It’s wonderful. We haven’t been able to stop smiling and get the house decorated for Christmas because we waited for him and it’s been wonderful,” she said.

She reflects on the suffering and the sacrifice that her family has had to make in the past eight years and says that for her, none of it was in vain if it means her children will live in a safer world. “I would rather try to fight the terrorists on another soil than our own and if he had to go back as many times as he did, for our children hopefully not to have to go back over there.  As long as it was done right this time, it’s definitely worth it,” she said.

Williams came under fire several times in Iraq. He brings back a bronze medal.  But he says the biggest reward is knowing that he did his part to make his country safer by ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein and fighting terrorist groups like al Qaida. “It was a great accomplishment in terms of, we’ve liberated a nation, we’ve taken care of the enemy on his soil, versus having him coming to the United States and attacking us again.  And I think in the long run I think it has saved a lot of soldiers and a lot of civilians in our country from having to make the ultimate sacrifice and having another 9-11,” he said.

Williams, like thousands of others returning to Fort Hood, is going through a reintegration program and getting ready for his new role as a soldier at base. “(My) personal plan now is to reintegrate with my family, get reset, refit, go back to my unit after the holidays and start getting our unit going through that whole refit process that you do when you reset  all your equipment, get back into soldiering again,” he said.

Williams says the war against terrorism is not finished and his job now is to get ready for the next engagement, whenever and wherever it may be.

For his family, this homecoming marks the advent of a new period of peace at home.

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