'You just can't wait to get back home'
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND (CNN) -- A plane carrying 192 U.S. Army soldiers serving in Iraq arrived early Friday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where they are beginning a two-week leave.
They are the first troops to get to go home under a new rest and recuperation program.
U.S. Army Spc. John Perkins talked to CNN's Bill Hemmer during a layover, before flying home to Macon, Georgia.
HEMMER: When did you find out that you were coming home, at least for 15 days, anyway?
PERKINS: Just a few days ago, actually.
HEMMER: Did that surprise you?
PERKINS: Oh, yes. We were getting ready to go out on a night patrol when they called me back in and told me I was going on leave.
HEMMER: I hate to ask the questions about feelings, but you're back in the U.S. you have a short time here. How do you feel right now coming back to this country?
PERKINS: Extremely excited. When you leave America you kind of take a lot of things for granted until you actually go and spend time in a Third World country and you see just how bad things really are. You realize you just can't wait to get back home as soon as you can.
HEMMER: What are you holding there? Show it for us.
PERKINS: This is an American flag. A buddy of ours was injured back in Kirkuk in June and lost his leg, so a lot of our friends from the same platoon, we all signed this American flag and I'm here to give it to him when I see him.
HEMMER: When will you see him?
PERKINS: Hopefully within the next hour.
HEMMER: When you go back to Macon, Georgia, what do you want to do?
PERKINS: Spend as much time as I can with my two daughters, Hannah and Gabby, with my mother and father, spend as much time as I can, and just see as much as I can while I'm here. Because like I said, a lot of things we take for granted when we are here but when we get the chance to come back we want to live it as much as we can.
HEMMER: At the end of this two-week period you go back to Iraq. What are your thoughts on that?
PERKINS: Just go back and get my job done as quick as I can. Get back home. And spend more time with my family.
HEMMER: What are (members of your unit) saying right now in terms of morale and attitudes toward the Iraqi situation? What do they say?
PERKINS: I would say that morale is extremely -- well morale now is extremely high, considering that we just got the R&R and a lot of people are getting to go on it. Beforehand, before we were able to go, morale was kind of low. But it's picking up now and getting better.
And feelings toward the Iraqi people, it's not as bad as you think. Actually, -- the Iraqi people are happy that we're there. At least in Kirkuk, where we're at, a lot of people are extremely happen.
Daily we're told by the Iraqi people that live there that "we love you, we are glad you're here, thank you for helping us." So that's a lot of uplifting times there when people tell us that.