The Missouri National Guard battalion, which is based in Cape Girardeau, has been in Fort Riley, Kan., since early January training for its deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While it was hoped the more than 400 Southeast Missouri soldiers would get one last weekend at home before the 18-month tour of duty, that wasn't for certain until last Thursday, the day the troops got to return home.
"We had to get all of our training requirements accomplished on Feb. 12 at noon and they got to come home that night," said the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. John Akers. "We thought everything was tracking pretty well, but we didn't get the thumbs up until that day. This is a big morale booster."
The soldiers made the most of their time here, especially Sgt. 1st Class Agnes Eyler, who got married on Friday. Eyler, formerly Agnes Liley, said she and her boyfriend, Lawrence, planned to get married when she got back from duty, but they decided to do it while she was home now.
"We went to the courthouse in Cape and got it done," said Eyler, a Jackson resident who is the personnel sergeant for the battalion. "We plan to do it right when I get back." They had a celebration Friday night. On Saturday, she took her daughter shopping.
"It meant a lot to be able to come home," Eyler said. Capt. Kevin Compas, the commander of the battalion's Bravo Company in Jackson and Perryville, said the time home has been bittersweet. On the one hand, he gets to see his wife and two children again.
"But we also have to say goodbye again," he said.
It's especially tough considering that his wife, Janice, is pregnant and due in July. He won't get to see his third child until the baby is several months old. Not to mention that it will create a hardship on his wife.
"Trying to keep up a household and two kids with him here is hard," Janice Compas said. "Without him, it's unbearable. Before, you can always tag-team it. I don't have that luxury."
It's harder saying goodbye the second time for her, too, she said.
"The first time, I knew he was just going to Fort Riley. Now I know he's going to Iraq. That's tough to take."
Akers has confirmed that the 1140th will be going to Iraq, but he said he couldn't be more specific about their mission because of security concerns. The battalion has detachments in Cape Girardeau, Farmington, Fredericktown, Perryville, Jackson, Sikeston, Portageville, Charleston and Caruthersville.
The mobilization orders for the 1140th call for 18 months of service, including 12 months of overseas duty, Akers said. That means the soldiers will not return from Iraq until late February or early March next year, he said.
The soldiers have been told to be back to their armories on Monday morning, where they will be bused back to Fort Riley. Akers said there is still some minor training to be done before the battalion heads to Iraq by the end of the month.
"So far, things have gone very well," he said. "The troops are motivated. Everyone is looking forward to getting on the ground and getting going. They know that as soon as we get there, the clock starts ticking to get home."