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Guard members welcomed back

Sgt. Katrina Flick was the first one off the bus.

After a year in Iraq, the 25-year-old Army National Guard soldier wanted nothing more than to scoop her 4 1/2 -year-old son, Austin, into her arms.

Flick and 22 other members of the Buffalo-based HQ Company Engineer Brigade were ferried home from Fort Drum Saturday afternoon.

"It's amazing," she said, with tears in her eyes, as her little boy, dressed head to toe in camouflage, smothered her with hugs and kisses. "I was sitting in the back of the bus and I ran all the way to the front so I could just grab him."

Saturday marked a joyful homecoming for this band of brothers -- and sisters.

Made up of about 70 men and women, the brigade's members range in age from 20s to 50s and hail mostly from the Buffalo area. Many are parents. Some work in law enforcement and emergency response.

This engineering brigade, part of the 3,000-troop 42nd Infantry Division, had been based in Tikrit for most of its tour.

The members oversaw reconstruction projects, including work on oil, electricity, power and water lines, in central and northern Iraq. They also helped shut down 29 U.S. military bases.

They had their share of close calls. One of their guardsmen, 1st Lt. Frank Washburn of Lockport, lost part of his foot when he stepped on a roadside bomb. But luckily, the brigade made it out of Iraq with no fatalities.

Now, all of the members are coming home, one bunch at a time.

Sgt. Justin Kaier, 26, of Cheektowaga, whose family was waiting for him at the armory, recalled a harrowing experience involving a bus as he was helping transport troops from Kuwait.

"The bus took fire, AK fire," he said. He and two other soldiers jumped off the bus and guarded it until help could arrive.

Now that he's back home, he intends to do some serious relaxing. "Just chilling," he said with a smile. He also hopes to return to Erie Community College.

Saturday was a day Linda Rine, 50, of the Town of Tonawanda, had been anxiously awaiting.

"I'm feeling so emotional," she said before the bus brought her husband, Lt. Col. Bob Rine, 51, to her and the more than 20 members of their family who came to greet him. "I'm just so glad. So glad it's over."

Her grandchildren, Andrea, 4, and Mercedes, 10, wore T-shirts that read "Welcome Home Papa November 12, 2005."

When she found him in the crowd of soldiers and loved ones outside the armory, they wrapped their arms around each other.

"It's wonderful," she cried. "I can't believe it's him. He's here."

Another mother who came home Saturday was Sgt. Rosemary Caicedo, 42, of the Town of Tonawanda. Her four daughters and grandson held up a sign that read, "Welcome back mom."

Her youngest, 6-year-old Victoria, refused to leave her mother's side as Sgt. Caicedo marveled at how much she had grown.

"I'm very happy to be home," she said, gazing at her family.

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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