Emotions are high during Ironman homecoming at UNI-Dome - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Emotions are high during Ironman homecoming at UNI-Dome


Emotions were high as 120 Eastern Iowa soldiers returned to their families following a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. More than 1,000 people filled the UNI-Dome Saturday afternoon, welcoming home soldiers from the 1-133rd Ironman Battalion.

"There's no words to express how excited we are. He was up at 3:00 this morning ready to go!" Katie Palmer said of her eight-year-old son Garrett.

Katie, Garrett, and six-year-old Ethan were there to welcome home the boys' father -- Corporal Eric Palmer.

Caitlyn Gilbert couldn't wait to have her daddy, Damian Gilbert, home as well.

"My light switch is broken in my room, I can't really fix it. My mom doesn't know how. He has chores when he comes home!" she said.

The adults have spent a year struggling to keep their emotions in check. But the kids didn't want to wait one minute longer. PFC Michael Mathis' son saw the soldiers start coming in, and couldn't hold back a cry for "Daddy!!!"

"I knew it was him when I heard him yelling because I could see when I first walked in," said Mathis. "I wanted to just run up there, but I might get in trouble."

After a short ceremony, including several leaders in the community, the wait was finally over. But no ceremony was brief enough for the guard members who hadn't seen their family in months.

"I just wanted it to get over so I could be with my family!" Capt. Scott Lujan, confessed.

Even nine-year-old Caitlyn forgot, for a moment, about her light switch. She hugged her dad with tears in her eyes, but then she wasted no time reminding him about his honey-do list.

Gilbert said he was hoping to start by cleaning out the attic.

But Caitlyn told him "you're not doing that first! You're doing my light switch first!"

Other soldiers are looking forward to spending time with the newest members of their family. SPC Greg Shadlow met his little girl once before, on his two week leave. But she hasn't forgotten him. Within seconds, little Cheyann was fast asleep in his arms.

"She was wide awake for the whole ceremony, she got into my shoulder and she's out cold. All content," he said.

After a year working as one team, each soldier is returning to his or her civilian life. They're happy to be home, but won't soon forget what they've experienced.

"It kept us apart physically, but emotionally and spiritually it brought us very close," said Shadlow.

This is expected to be the first of several welcome home ceremonies at the UNI-Dome. The Iowa National Guard is bringing home about 2,900 troops in the next few weeks, and is scheduling each of the events about two days in advance.

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