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Second group of Pa. soldiers back from Iraq

September 05, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- They were tired.

They had not seen their loved ones in as long as a year.

They wanted to wear something other than camouflage.

They wanted to go home.

But the men of the Pennsylvania National Guard's Battery B, 108th Field Artillery of the 56th Stryker Brigade had to line up in formation one more time Saturday after they stepped off the bus at the Gettysburg armory.

"Let's get this over with," said Sgt. 1st Class Oscar Laughman of Hanover, Pa. "I don't know about you, but I want to go home."

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Gettysburg- and Waynesboro, Pa.-based Battery B deployed to Taji, Iraq, in January following months of extensive training in Mississippi and Louisiana.

The Stryker Brigade was responsible for nine joint security station outposts and patrols in a 500-square-mile rural area 12 miles north of Baghdad.

Even though the men kept in constant contact with their parents, wives and children, the time away from home took its toll.

When Karen Keefer's husband, Spc. Sean Keefer, left a year ago, Keefer said she was more than upset.

"I was angry. I didn't want this to happen," she said. "But now, I'm feeling anxiety. It's kind of like living your wedding day all over again."

Like any bride, Karen Keefer said she fought the butterflies in her stomach as she strove to make her husband's homecoming perfect.

"I missed them quite a lot," Sean Keefer said. "It's so good to be home."

More than 100 others came prepared to make the day special for their soldier with balloons, banners, T-shirts, and plenty of love and admiration.

"Oh, I am so proud of him," said Laughman's sister, Amy Laughman.

Wiping back tears, she admitted she worried about her brother while he was in Iraq.

"I'm glad he is home safe and sound," she said. "I'm going to hug him, kiss him and tell him I love him."

Prying the men away from the warm embrace of family, Laughman lined the men up for the one command from Capt. Chris Ream the battery longed to receive.

"I know I already gave you my going-away speech, but I just want to say thank you again," Ream said. "We kept this team together. We brought everyone home."

Not wasting any time, he gave the men their final order.

"Battery! Attention!" he called. "Dismissed!"

"Hoooah!" the men called.

Battery B will not formally report for duty again until December, Ream said.

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