SALT LAKE CITY — The 96th Sustainment Brigade arrived early Thursday.

A month, two weeks and about 30 minutes early, give or take.

Mobilized last July, the brigade's 317 Army Reserve soldiers trained in Texas before being deployed to Iraq, where the soldiers provided food, water, ammunition and other supplies to about 5,000 troops from Baghdad to the borders of Jordan and Syria.

Thursday morning, the brigade's final 45 soldiers arrived home, the beneficiaries of a drawdown that by June will leave more soldiers in Afghanistan than Iraq for the first time since 2003.

"A lot of the stuff we were shipping out of Iraq was going over to Afghanistan to support the efforts there," said Col. C.J. Read. "Hopefully, Afghanistan sees success and we can get out of there as well."

Soldiers touted the progress being made in Iraq Thursday, as they held their children and kissed loved ones for the first time in nearly a year.

"Iraq is almost at a stable point," Staff Sgt. Damien Murphy said while holding his young son.

"If you had asked several years ago, it was a state of turmoil, and there were a lot of unknowns as to what was going to happen," added Read. "But I'm very hopeful of the Iraqi people. They've come a long ways. For them to take charge of not only the government, but the military, that's huge. … I think they've got a great future."

As their soldiers arrived at the Air National Guard base east of the Salt Lake City International Airport, friends and family waved flags and signs and cheered loudly when the uniformed troops stepped out of the airplane.

Some family members scrambled into the hangar late; the brigade, already arriving six weeks ahead of schedule, landed about 30 minutes earlier than planned.

Spc. Javier Alcantar ran into the arms of his wife and three children. His sons, Hector and Jonathan, promised him breakfast. Kimberly, his daughter, cried.

"They're very happy tears," Alcantar said. "It's amazing. I love being home."

The brigade's early return meant Maj. Patrick O'Leary would be with his twin boys, Austin and Colby, when they turn 4 today.

His wife, Maj. Alexa O'Leary, has been deployed stateside for the past year.

Tears welled up in eyes of the couple's 12-year-old son, Sean, as he welcomed his father home and made plans to spend the day playing football and basketball.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time," Patrick O'Leary said. "It's just as I imagined."

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