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THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Troops From Puerto Rico Return From Iraq
40 U.S. Troops Return To Families And Fanfare In Puerto Rico On Christmas Eve
December 24, 2003
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Dozens of U.S. troops from Puerto Rico returned from Iraq on Wednesday to families who said they'd received the Christmas present of their dreams.
After spending eight months transferring cargo and distributing supplies in north and central Iraq, 40 troops from the Army Reserve's 346th Transport Battalion landed at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in eastern Puerto Rico.
They were met by a welcoming ceremony and embraces from hundreds of relatives and friends.
``He still doesn't believe it,'' said Delimar Santiago, wife of Capt. Eric Santiago, referring to their 11-year-old son, Ryan, who grinned while he waited for his father's arrival.
Twelve relatives of Capt. Ramon Pares came to greet him. For wife Carmen Pares, the homecoming was ``the happiest Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.''
The battalion left for Nasiriyah, Iraq on April 21. Military spokesman Jose Pagan said the troops will return to reserve duty on the island early next month.
The battalion was exposed repeatedly to dangerous combat, transporting 28,000 truckloads of supplies, Brig. Gen. Jose Rosado said.
``The best Christmas present we could have had is your homecoming,'' he said in a speech to the troops.
At least 11 U.S. soldiers of Puerto Rican descent have died in Iraq.
Commotion stirred through the crowd as it watched the jet carrying the troops descend through the clouds and touch down. Later, cheers erupted when the troops wearing desert camouflage filed into the airplane hanger where the families, seated beneath tarpaulins, awaited them.
Sgt. Neftali Torres, 33, a mechanic from Carolina, Puerto Rico, said living conditions in Iraq had improved since the blistering months spent in tents and cots after the battalion's arrival.
``We have showers, we have air conditioning, we have everything,'' Torres said.