|Updated: 11/09/2011 10:27 am
||Published: 11/09/2011 10:18 am
GULFPORT, MS - Thirty-one Arkansas National Guardsmen from the 77th Theater Aviation Brigade's 1st Battalion, 185th Aviation Regiment returned to the United States late Tuesday night after completing a year-long deployment to Iraq.
The soldiers are the first wave of over 350 Arkansas Guards members from four different units returning home in the coming weeks, having completed rotations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Tuesday's returning Soldiers initially departed the state for training on Dec. 2, 2010, prior to heading overseas for a helicopter flight operations mission at Camp Stryker and Taji, Iraq.
Several families made the drive from central Arkansas to greet their soldiers as they got off the plane. A woman from Cabot didn't tell her husband, Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, she was planning on making the trip and surprised him at the reception center.
"He has no idea," said Tina Johnson. "I worked with a couple of other wives and came down to surprise him. It has been so difficult to keep the secret."
The 185th's soldiers will remain in Mississippi for a few days of post-mobilization out-processing at the Camp Shelby Maneuver Training Center near Hattiesburg.
The remaining 110 members of the 185th are scheduled to return to the U.S. over the next two weeks.
In the coming weeks, the Arkansas National Guard anticipates the return of 25 with the 449th Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Company from Kosovo; 125 with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 77th Aviation Brigade from Iraq; and 60 with the state's second Agriculture Development Team from Afghanistan.
With these scheduled returns, all of the Arkansas National Guard's units are anticipated to be home for Christmas.