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Returning soldiers, families rejoice at reunion

By JR Ortega
Aug. 1, 2010 at 3:01 a.m.

Specialist Valor Broadway, 20, of Corpus Christi,  receives a hug after returning from an eight-month tour in Iraq.

Up-to-date facts on the Iraq War There are 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq as of Feb. 28.

There have been 4,413 U.S. servicemen and women who have died in the Iraq War.

At least 30 percent of soldiers develop mental health problems three to four months after returning home.

About $900 billion of taxpayers' money has been spent or approved for spending through Sept 2010.

Source; Brooking Institution's Iraq Index

EL CAMPO - Flowers in hand, Cheryl Ruiz sighed and giggled in anticipation as she saw the tour bus carrying her husband pull into the parking lot of the Roy P. Benavidez National Guard Armory on Sunday.

Dressed in his army fatigues, Sgt. Jose Amado Ruiz got off the bus, ignored the flowers and gave his wife what he could not give her since September - a hug and kiss.

The Harlingen couple's scene was a common one in the parking lot as other families reunited with the 144 National Guardsmen from the 551st Charlie Company, who returned from a tour in Iraq.

"I was nervous," said Corpus Christi resident Thomas Rios, who was reunited with his fiance Jessica Dominguez after being stationed in Iraq for four months. "It's the best feeling of your life."

Families moved into the K.C. Hall, and soldiers lined up outside after the brief outdoor reunion.

The soldiers then marched into the hall to yet another reunion with the families and a sit down lunch.

Sunday also marked the beginning of life as a three-person family for one Port Lavaca couple.

Spc. Eric Gregory, reunited with his wife, Joey, and his 2-month-old daughter Ryleigh, who he only saw at birth.

He was then deployed back to Iraq.

Now he's back home.

"It was exciting to know that he was home finally, and this time for good," she said.

Gregory learned a lot while on tour, he said.

He worked as a correctional officer at two different camps in Iraq, Taji and Cropper.

And for the first time in U.S. history, the two camps were able to be run by Iraqi correctional officers because of the training they received from the guardsmen, said Capt. Rich Ghinelli, who debriefed with the families about the tour.

It was an exciting experience for Gregory, but he's just glad to be back home, she said.

"I'm speechless," he said.

Ryleigh was happy to see her father, too.

Wearing a pink dress with an army fatigue hair bow, Ryleigh and her father matched.

But the two share more than blood and Army fatigue-patterned clothing, his wife said.

"She's a morning person. Mommy is not," she said.

"And I am," he said, smiling.

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