MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The last convoy of U.S. soldiers has left Iraq, ending a nine-year war. The final convoy of 100 U.S. military vehicles and 500 troops crossed into Kuwait early this morning as dawn broke.
The withdrawal ended a war that cost the lives of almost 4,500 U.S. troops, tens of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of billions of U.S. government dollars.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International witnessed history on Sunday when part of the final wave of soldiers to return home stopped by for a short layover.
WCCO-TV spoke exclusively to the 265 soldiers who were en route to their base in Fort Bliss, Texas.
While most layovers are consumed by a good book or a cup of coffee, for these soldiers, this layover was a little more memorable. It was the first step back on American soil in nine months. It was a chance to phone home on their cells. It was a chance to get fixed up and cleaned up before making the final leg home.
Volunteers from the Armed Forces Services Center met the men and women with food, toothbrushes, Tylenol and dozens of other care items.
According to Gen. Don S. Cornett Jr., this return home takes a different tone than his last 37 years of homecoming.
“It’s a very, very good feeling because not just the excitement of coming home, and during the holidays, but also, as we left, we weren’t being replaced by anyone. So that’s special knowing that all of our soldiers, they should have crossed the border this morning,” said Cornett Jr.
The layover was particularly special for Sgt. James Grein. While he and his wife live in Tennessee, his mother and sister are St. Paul residents. The last time Grein saw his mother was 10 years ago.
On Sunday, the soldier had the chance for a brief tearful reunion with his mother and sister. Their reunion only lasted minutes, during the short walk back to the terminal before Grein had to depart back to the base. Then, came another hug from his mother, this time to say goodbye.
“It is the absolute best to see my son home and safe. That’s the best Christmas present anybody could ever ask for,” said his mother Stephanie Erhardt.
By the way, several of the soldiers plan to surprise their children with an early return home in time for Christmas.