Nearly 15 months after they volunteered to deploy with the Middlesboro unit, they arrived at Middlesboro High School to a crowd of nearly 1,000 family members and friends, and to some people who didn't even know them but wanted to cheer them on as they stepped off two tour buses and onto native Kentucky soil.
For some of them, their stay will be short. In two weeks, many of them will be voluntarily returning to Iraq when the Harlan National Guard deploys, while many more of them will serve in the states and train other units for the challenges of a war in Iraq.
Pete Mullins, 22, one of several soldiers with similar stories, is going to Camp Shelby in Mississippi in two weeks to train other troops. During his service in Ramadi, Iraq, he has seen heavy combat and slow progress.
“(Insurgents) are getting thin over there. There's progress over there. It's took a couple of years, but there's progress,” he said.
Mullins joined the military at 18, following in the footsteps of his grandfather who served in Korea, his uncle who served in Vietnam and his mother who served in Iraq. After his second year of active duty, he is looking at the possibility of getting into the Kentucky State Police academy.
Harlan soldiers who returned home on Sunday include Brian Adams, Terry Blanton, Donnie Bradford, Jeremy Caldwell, Jason Clark, Wesley Colinger, Steven Conway, Kevin Couch, Timothy Deaton, Kevin Fairchild, James Gibson, Brian Hagy, Andrew Hensley, Justin Hensley, Oren Howard Jr., Casey Johnson, Billy J. Lefeavers III, George “Sonny” Long, William Long, Kevin Middleton, Pete Mullins, Troy Mullins, Brian Napier, Aaron Noe, Thomas Polson, Jonathan Scoville, David Truitt, Seth Winn and Jason Woolum.