It was a long day for the Chicago area soldiers that began with a flight from Ft. Hood in Texas to Springfield. There, soldiers had a parade and welcome-home ceremony, after which they boarded a bus to North Riverside. The trip was delayed, however, after the unit's bus broke down, but finally, late Sunday afternoon, the soldiers arrived home.
With a police escort, a bus carrying the Chicago area soldiers made its way to the armory in North Riverside. Inside, their families waited. No one had seen each other since the unit was deployed a year ago.
The soldiers marched in to nothing but cheers. After a few welcome home remarks, the Illinois Army National Guard's 3625th Maintenance Company was dismissed.
For soldier Charlene Rusiecka, the celebration was overwhelming.
"When you come home and see all this, it feels really good," she said.
The Rusiecka family had been anxious for a safe return since they said goodbye last year.
"You know, it is important thing to do, but for a 20-year-old it's kind of different. So, it was hard," said relative Janet Peterson.
Sgt. Willie Herring was returning Sunday after his second tour of duty and did not expect to see his family when he arrived.
"They kind of surprised me. I didn't know they would be here," he said.
"It's a blessing. It's a blessing. It's so great for them to come back together alive," Rubey Herring, the returning soldier's mother.
In addition, not one soldier in the unit came back wounded.
"We stuck with each other all the time, and we had to keep on each other," Lt. John Ramos, who was returning also.
Many people said it was the support from back home that got them through a difficult tour.
"I got letters from my niece's Girl Scout troops, my daughter's class. I got birthday cards," said Staff Sgt. Fabian Valdez. " [It] kept morale back up."
For Sgt. Herring, it was thinking about his big family that kept him going. The homecoming continued at his sister's house. The family said the key, at that point, was re-adjusting to civilian life.
"Over there, you are on edge all the time. You come back here, you've got to figure out how to relax again," Herring said.
The soldier also said t was unlikely he would be returning for a third tour because his 20 years with the National Guard is almost complete. Herring said his latest tour was much more dangerous than he had anticipated.