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1ST U.S. TROOPS TO ARRIVE HEAD FOR HOME

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The first American combat troops to arrive in Bosnia last year were also the first to leave, heading home Saturday relieved but proud.

More than 200 troops of the 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Regiment, Airborne Battalion Combat Team, left by helicopter and convoy for Taszar, Hungary, en route to their home base in Vicenza, Italy.They are part of the Southern European Task Force. The remaining 400 troops that arrived here Dec. 18 will leave over the next three days.

"We were the initial insertion force to provide security to Tuzla Air Base area while the remainder of the heavy forces flowed into the country and could get established," said the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Mike Scaparrotti, 39, of Logan, Ohio.

"We did our mission and we did it quite well . . . so far without any casualties. . . . We're ready to go."

The troops said they were glad to be leaving the cold, snow and boredom to return to their wives, children and girlfriends.

"We're a little bit excited about getting back," said Staff Sgt. Sean Kelly, 28, of Scranton, Pa.

"Am I going to miss it? No, I don't think so. It gets monotonous being away and being on a mission like this where the activity is limited to watching."

Kelly said he was buoyed by the gratitude of some Bosnians, who suffered four years of war before the arrival of 17,000 American peacekeepers, scheduled to remain until December.

"Some of them seem happy that we came here and that they've got an opportunity to try and get back on track," he said.

Staff Sgt. Jose Pizarro, 31, of Ponce, Puerto Rico, also was eager to return home, to his wife, Susu, and two children, Christopher, 5, and Kevin, 2, from whom he was separated during Christmas.

The mission was a success, he said, and the troops distinguished themselves.

"The battalion set high standards," Pizarro said.