FORT DRUM, N.Y. (AP) – Two Army Reserve units from New England whose extended tours in Iraq exasperated relatives landed on home soil Friday after more than a year overseas.

A plane carrying more than 300 combined members of the 94th Military Police Company headquartered in Londonderry, N.H., and the New Haven, Conn.-based 439th Quartermaster Company landed at Fort Drum just before noon. The troops were greeted with patriotic music and cheers and American flags from fellow soldiers.

Tired but happy-looking soldiers made cell calls, smoked cigars and seemed to be in disbelief that they were finally home.

Members of both companies had been set to leave Iraq previously but their stays were extended, angering some relatives who said the year-plus deployments were unfair and morale crushing.

“It just kept going on, and on, and on. It was the deployment that didn’t end,” said Spc. Brandon Callison of Allenstown, N.H., a member of the 439th. “Everyone just pushed each other to go on another day.”

Public complaints by family members exposed tensions as the nation’s military – stretched thin by campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq – relies more on National Guard and Reserve troops. Politicians in Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut joined in lobbying for a return date for the units from their respective states. Military officials, however, said the extended deployment was warranted.

“The fact of the matter is, though, that the nation is at war. The Army has a responsibility to respond to that need,” said Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich, commander of the 94th Regional Readiness Command in Massachusetts.

The 150-plus member 94th Military Police Company was deployed in December 2002 and arrived in Iraq in April 2003. The company is trained to keep supply lines secure and other military units safe.

The 94th was set to return home last October, but the unit’s tour was extended another six months. Hours away from boarding a plane home in April, military officials extended the deployment for another 120 days.

A final kink occurred this week when the unit’s departure from Kuwait was delayed 24 hours because of a mechanical problem with their airplane.

Nancy Durst of Buxton, Maine, whose husband Scott is a staff sergeant with the 94th, said the delays were frustrating. But she said she and others take heart in knowing everyone returned alive after hazardous duty.

“Personally, it’s just not real for me yet. I know the waterworks will start flowing when I see him,” Durst said from Maine. “I just feel so lucky that he’s home alive and safe.”

The 94th was in Iraq for a month longer than the 162-member 439th Quartermaster Company, which had been serving in Iraq since May 2003.

The fueling company had been serving in Iraq, but was shifted to Kuwait, where members performed guard duty and other tasks.

Laich said the returning soldiers were expected to spend several days at Fort Drum attending to paperwork related to the end of their active duty.

He added every effort was being made to ease the transition for the long-serving Reserves, including making available counselors and chaplains.

Fort Drum officials said family members were advised not to come to the base so the returning troops could focus on the task of returning to civilian life.

In Maine, Durst said she could hang on for a few more days. “I’ve waited this long,” she said. “I can hold out a couple of days.”

AP-ES-07-30-04 1414EDT



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