It was an emotional homecoming for 160 soldiers of the California National Guard who arrived home after a year long deployment in Afghanistan. NBC Bay Area's Kimberly Tere reports.
Dozens of National Guard service members from the Bay Area have been among thousands of soldiers who made their way home from Iraq this month, marking the official end of a nine-year war in the Persian Gulf country.
"We've had units coming back in left and right," National Guard spokesman Major Jonathan Masaki Shiroma said Tuesday.
Units based in California, Nevada and Oregon have returned from overseas just prior to the holiday season, including a California Army National Guard medical unit based in San Mateo that arrived home at the beginning of December, Shiroma said.
"Everyone from the 297th Medical Company came back two or three weeks ago," he said.
The 297th Medical Company was made up of 60 medical professionals -- dentists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and X-ray technicians -- who provided medical and dental services to soldiers at various posts around Iraq, Shiroma said.
Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, more than 15,000 California National Guard soldiers have been deployed to Iraq, National Guard Lt.Will Martin said. Twenty-six were killed in action.
The 297th Medical Company was the last full California National Guard unit to come home, he said.
The last six airmen who remained in Iraq on special assignments came home today.
"Our presence there is done," he said.
Martin, who served in Iraq with the Fairfield-based 49th Military Police Brigade in 2009 and 2010, said that most returning soldiers are happy to be home and proud of the role they had in helping Iraq to become a free, democratic nation.
"The average soldier is glad to be home," Martin said. "The general feeling is that we did a noble job with the cards we were dealt over there."
The men and women in Martin's military police brigade were primarily responsible for continuing to train the newly established Iraqi police forces, he said.
"There's a sense of brotherhood we feel with those guys," Martin said of the Iraqi officers. "We're hopeful that they're going to be able to carry on where we left off."
Shiroma said that even though the U.S. military is still active in Afghanistan, the likelihood is small that California National Guard soldiers will be deployed.
"California Guard won't be deployed in the near future," he said. "Ten years ago, they would have been redeployed, but Iraq has wrapped up and it looks like the Obama administration will scale back in Afghanistan."
Three California National Guard soldiers have been killed serving in Afghanistan, Martin said.