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At Fort Hood, day of mourning ends with celebration

By Jim Spellman, CNN
The Wolf family, from left to right, Zachariah, Margaret,  Master Sgt. Steve Wolf and MacKenzie Lee.
The Wolf family, from left to right, Zachariah, Margaret, Master Sgt. Steve Wolf and MacKenzie Lee.
  • Grey Wolf Troopers return home to Fort Hood, Texas, after a year in Iraq
  • Families line bleachers of a football field waiting with signs for loved ones
  • "When you have little ones it's an even bigger rush," mom says
  • Few talk about the loss of 13 soldiers and a civilian killed in the shootings

Fort Hood, Texas (CNN) -- The homecoming celebration Tuesday night for soldiers returning from war is like no other ever held here.

A rowdy crowd assembles, as always, the excitement palpable. Teary wives and girlfriends and moms and dads hold the hands of children bearing signs like Zachariah Wolf's: "Welcome home bestest daddy."

But this time the community that gathers to cheer the soliders' safe return from Iraq spent the day mourning the loss of comrades from its midst.

The Grey Wolf Troopers, soldiers of the 3rd Brigade combat team, 1st Cavalry, are coming home after a year in Mosul. They, too, know that in their absence so much here has changed. The post they call home has been under attack; 13 soldiers and a civilian are gone, their alleged killer an Army major.

But few here speak of the November 5 killings. That's not what this night is about.

They fill the bleachers of a football field as DJs blast AC/DC. "Welcome home daddy, we missed you" says one sign. Another: "I'm here to pick up my daddy."

A pretty young lady dressed to the nines carries a poster saying "my hero, my hubby, my life, my love." She flashes a smile and flips it over to reveal: "Nick Vecchio's Booty."

Video: Grey Wolf Troopers homecoming
  • Fort Hood
  • Shootings
  • Iraq War

Zachariah awaits his "bestest daddy," Master Sgt. Steve Wolf. Zachariah's sister, MacKenzie Lee, is getting antsy. Their mom, Margaret, tries to calm her.

"They're almost here" she says as Mackenzie Lee starts to cry.

And then, almost on cue, the white buses full of Grey Wolf Troopers pull up. Soldiers file out and fall into formation. The music stops. The crowd grows quiet. An officer says a quick prayer and then calls out the command the families have long awaited:


And it's pandemonium. The families rush the field, the soldiers rush the bleachers: It's a mad dash to find your loved one in a sea of camouflage.

Margaret Wolf catches sight of her husband. The kids tear after him. Mackenzie Lee gets to him first and then Zachariah. He hugs them tight. Mackenzie Lee has stopped crying and is all smiles.

Margaret snaps a few pictures and then gets a hug for herself. "It's a rush. It's a total rush," she says, "and when you have little ones it's an even bigger rush."

A long year is finally over. Her family is whole again.

"Oh, it's great man," says her husband. "It's about time."

Fort Hood Army Post has lost 545 soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A spokesman was unable to say Tuesday night whether the Grey Wolf Troopers suffered casualties in its yearlong tour.

The sense of community here that has seen the post through this difficult week is the same one that has seen the Wolf family through the past year.

"It's tough when you play mom and dad," Margaret Wolf says. "Everybody pulls together when they need it. Last week showed that, and this right here shows that."

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