About 100 national guardsmen returned home at six different locations in Illinois.
It was a joyful homecoming for 40 guardsmen, part of the 2nd battalion, 106th cavalry, who spent one year in Afghanistan. Family and friends waved, cheered and cried, thrilled that this moment has finally arrived.
"Don't have to worry about anything. Just gotta get home and relax, sleep in my own bed. No more sand. Good water. It won't make me sick. Good food," said Specialist Robert Haas, Illinois National Guard.
"I enjoy serving my country," said Sgt. Cesar Chavez, Illinois National Guard. "I love what I do."
"Extremely happy to be home with my family. But at the same time, kind of sense of relief to be done with the mission. Few soldiers left in Afghanistan, but the vast majority of the troops are home. I'm glad to be home myself," said said 1st Sgt. Steven Krause, Illinois National Guard.
It was a bittersweet moment as well. Sergeant Paul Smith of East Peoria, Ill. did not return with his friends. He was killed June 19 when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.
It was the largest overseas deployment for the Illinois Guard since World War II. At this point, about 60 percent of the guards have returned home. And the rest of the guards are expected to return home during the upcoming weeks.