After all the fears of war, more than two dozen soldiers returned safely to their families Thursday, while hundreds of people lined the streets of Forest Park to salute those who came home as heroes.
For many of the troops, the return home follows tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
A charter bus with a police escort carried family members from Forest Park to O'Hare International Airport. Emotions were high as families were reunited in the airport's baggage claim area.
Among them was Rose Jenkins, whose husband had been in Iraq for a year.
"I'll tell you what, when I landed, if I could have gotten out of that plane and if I could have kissed the ground, I definitely would have," Capt. Aaron Jenkins said after being reunited with his wife and three children.
The 318th PAOC was called to duty Aug. 24, 2009 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Based in Bagdad, Iraq, the soldiers served as the Press Camp Headquarters overseeing public affairs information centers and handling media relations.
Jenkins and several other soldiers remarked that there has been a distinct change in vibe since President Barack Obama's declaration earlier this week that combat operations in Iraq had ended.
"They're ready to take over and they're ready for us to advise and assist them now," he said.
Citizens and shop owners lined the streets in Forest Park as the bus, with Gov. Pat Quinn on board, made its way to the Park District for a welcome home celebration.
"Every single one of these men and women is a volunteer, a volunteer for our military. They're wearing the uniform of our country because they believe in it. They believe in answering the call to duty and being there," Quinn said in his remarks which included references to Abraham Lincoln and the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States.
Last August, 30 soldiers were deployed with the unit. Of those, five suffered non-combat related injuries and returned home separately throughout the past year.