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Utah Guard unit returns from 18 months in Iraq

'I'm totally relieved,' father says after 2 of his sons arrive home

James McGregor stood with hands in his pockets, staring out into the darkness of an empty runway. Though he was facing away from the light spilling from the open hangar doors behind him, it was easy to tell he was relaxed. The muscles on his face were loose and his smile came easily.

"I'm totally relieved," he said. "I've been terrified for 18 months." He was waiting the arrival of two sons returning from Iraq.

As a plane roared onto the runway the hundreds of people around him began to cheer and wave banners. Their loved ones had returned, and with them were James McGregor Jr. and his brother Eric.

"For the past six weeks they were running convoy missions and they've had incidents every day," said the elder McGregor as he watched the plane taxi. "They're coming home with one less man, you know. I'm very relieved."

The McGregor brothers are just two of the nearly 80 Utah National Guard soldiers who returned Friday night from active duty in Iraq. Members of Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 148th Field Artillery, from Logan and Brigham City, returned to a jubilant reception at the Salt Lake Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City.

The 1-148th was mobilized in June 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and sent to Iraq where they were involved in security patrols and other assigned missions.

As the plane taxied, taking what looked almost like a lap of honor in front of the hangar, another family waited anxiously for their soldier. They included Marjorie and Don Burt and their daughter-in-law Heather and her three children.

"We are so excited and so happy," said Marjorie. "I wasn't supposed to be, but I've been worried."

The family said they are looking forward to getting their lives back to normal, and for the children to get to know their father again.

"I'm just looking forward to his spending some time with the kids," said Heather. "He has a 3-year-old daughter and he's missed a third of her life."

One of the soldiers of the 1-148th didn't make it home. Staff Sgt. Ronald Wood, based in Logan, was the last Utah casualty of the war. He was killed and two others were injured in Kirkuk in July when their Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb. Sgt. Christopher Olsen of Logan and Spc. Eric Lund of Providence were treated for shrapnel wounds and recovered.

As the plane stopped, the soldiers walked confidently and easily down its steps, appearing to take in the sensations of returning home.

Spc. Ben Davis hugged his wife, Alisha, and didn't let go.

"We've only been married 18 months," she said. "It's so good to have him back."

Davis said he missed the people the most, his wife, his family — and also his car.

Brigham City will host a welcome-home celebration for the soldiers of the 1-148th at the Brigham City Armory, 958 N. 500 West, at 8 a.m. on Monday, followed by a parade. Logan will host a similar event with a parade starting at Macey's grocery store at 10:15 a.m. followed by a ceremony in the auditorium of the Taggart Student Center at Utah State University.