They’re home for Christmas

420 Guardsmen get an unexpected gift — an early return from overseas

“Mommy is home, mommy is home,” Ebony Hobson of Fall River told Amieyah, 2, at the Dorchester Armory yesterday. “Mommy is home, mommy is home,” Ebony Hobson of Fall River told Amieyah, 2, at the Dorchester Armory yesterday. (John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff)
By Billy Baker
Globe Staff / December 25, 2010

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The military gave the children balloons, little gifts to keep them occupied while they waited. Very quickly, all the balloons ended up in the rafters.

There was only one gift the children wanted and, shortly after 3:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the military finally gave it to them.

That’s when their parents marched in the door.

Soldiers from the Massachusetts National Guard’s 164th Transportation Battalion made an emotional homecoming at the Dorchester Armory yesterday, after nearly a year of work in Iraq and Kuwait.

As a metal door was raised and the soldiers marched in, the room went wild with squeals and whistles. Rose Kurek slept right through it.

She’s only 5 weeks old. She will not remember anything about this day. But it’s a Christmas Eve she will probably hear about for the rest of her life.

It was the day she met her father.

“It feels great,’’ First Lieutenant Peter Kurek of Watertown said as he cradled his baby girl in his arms for the first time. He had watched her birth on a webcam, thanks to some creative work by the staff in the delivery room at Mount Auburn Hospital.

But it was nothing compared with seeing Rose in person.

“I’ve been anticipating this for a long time. Outside of doing my work, it’s really all I’ve been thinking about,’’ he said. “This is the best Christmas gift I could have.’’

Then he looked down at Rose in her pink pajamas and talked about how tough it was to make it through the brief ceremony when the battalion arrived.

“I kept my military bearing,’’ he said, “but I wanted to run. I’ve never wanted a formation to end more quickly.’’

At similar ceremonies in Hingham, Worcester, and Framingham, the Massachusetts National Guard welcomed home 420 troops yesterday — ahead of schedule and just in time for the holidays — after the battalion completed its mission of moving heavy equipment out of Iraq.

“It was the largest retrograde operation since World War II,’’ said Lieutenant Colonel Richard Rollins, a Woburn resident and the commander of the Dorchester-based unit. “They didn’t think we could pull it off.’’

“It’s a miracle that we made it back in time for Christmas. It just feels very special,’’ Rollins said as his 16-year-old twin girls, Amanda and Sarah, stood by his side, vibrating with excitement.

Sarah held a sign that said “We’ve Missed You Daddy.’’

Amanda’s was more seasonal.

“Santa Brought Daddy Home,’’ it read.

At the ceremony in the Hingham armory, Angela Soto, a soldier with the 1058th Transportation Unit, called it a blessing to get home in time for Christmas.

“We weren’t even sure we were going to make it,’’ she said. “So to actually be here on this day, and have the whole day tomorrow to celebrate with family and friends — you couldn’t ask for anything more.’’

Globe correspondent Jessica Bartlett contributed to this report. Baker can be reached at