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N.C. National Guardsmen Welcomed Home

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RALEIGH, N.C. — About six months ago, 4,500 members of North Carolina's 30th Heavy Separate Brigade returned home after spending several months in Iraq. On Saturday, at the RBC Center in Raleigh, those National Guardsmen finally celebrated their homecoming.

"Happy. Blessed. Proud," A.J. Byrd, the wife of one of the National Guard members, said.

Governor Mike Easley marked the official end of the brigade's duty when he received the unit's N.C. flag during the ceremony. Easley had given the troops the flag when they deployed.

One highlight of Saturday's ceremony was a performance by The Hickabillies, the brigade's band, which formed during the deployment. Hootie and the Blowfish also performed and capped off the celebration.

For the Guardsmen, who were part of the largest National Guard deployment since the Second World War, it was a time to reconnect with friends, to appreciate home and to honor five comrades who did not make it home.

"I hope my unit did what we could to help those people," Staff Sgt. William Byrd said.

Some also took the time to respond to members of Congress calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Earlier this week, U.S. Representative Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, was among those Congressmen who introduced legislation calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of troops.

"I would like to see all the soldiers home. Yes, that would be great," Staff Sgt. William Byrd said. "But I don't think we can set a date. We need to run the course. That may mean me going back over there."

U.S. Representative David Price, a Democrat, attended the homecoming, and he said he wants President Bush to give the American public a plan that would ultimately keep soldiers home.

Until that time comes, Guard members said, they would be prepared for their next tour of duty.

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