Fort Riley Fifty-three soldiers who returned Saturday to Fort Riley from Iraq were the first group of about 3,000 expected to come home over the next two months.
Those who returned Saturday were part of the 937th Engineer Group, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and had been on a yearlong deployment. Maj. Gen. Dennis Hardy, commanding general of the 24th Infantry Division and Fort Riley, noted that all the soldiers of the 937th Engineer Group returned alive.
Official records indicate that 28 from the base have died; reports Saturday indicated two more were killed Thursday. About 6,800 Fort Riley soldiers are serving in Iraq.
About 200 friends and family members woke before dawn to meet the men and women upon arrival at 6 a.m. Hardy welcomed them back in a speech.
"You are now veterans," Hardy said. "You have gone in harm's way ... what we know we are about in this world is stability, peace and freedom for people who have never really known freedom."
The 937th Engineer Group saw its mission change during its time in Iraq. As the 3rd Infantry Division advanced into Baghdad, the 937th was providing support. More recently, the 937th worked on renovation plans for Iraqi army facilities.
Diana Jones, whose son, Pfc. Ryan Jones, was among those who returned from Iraq on Saturday, came all the way from Houston, Texas, to welcome him home.
"When I see him I am going to just hug him and cry," Diana Jones said, wiping away tears.