OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM Soldiers get hero's welcome

Businesses along the bus route welcomed the troops home.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF STAFF SGT. Ralph A. Royea III filled parts of three rows in the Fitch High School Auditorium in Austintown to welcome him home.
Royea, of Austintown, is a member of C Company, 216th Engineer Battalion, Army National Guard, which returned Friday after about 13 months of deployment as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The battalion, a portion of which remains in Kuwait and is expected to return home within a month, repaired an airfield and built a chapel during its stint in Iraq.
They were welcomed home with an auditorium full of family, friends and well-wishers and a ceremony commemorating their service.
Royea, also known as Buddy, held his 3-year-old son Brian as family surrounded him waiting for a hug and posing for pictures.
His wife, Shannon, one of the organizers of Friday's ceremony, was able to talk to her husband by telephone often during his tour of duty and said she kept herself busy to avoid worry.
The family support group for the company helped with its Easter egg hunt, picnic, bonfire and other activities.
His mother, Trudy Miller of Salem, watched news coverage of the operation when she wanted to feel close to him.
"But that also made me upset when I'd see how bad it was over there," she said, choking back tears.
Royea, 30, served six years in the Marine Corps before joining the Army National Guard about seven years ago, his mother said.
The family planned to gather with Royea for dinner after Friday's ceremony.
The family of Spec. Shawn L. Arnold, 24, traveled from Tallmadge to greet him.
His in-laws, Dennis and Jane Treich, held up signs bearing yellow ribbons and American flags to welcome their son-in-law home.
Hug for grandma
"I got the first hug when he got off the bus," said Arnold's grandmother, Helen Edwards of Suffield in Portage County.
Arnold and his wife, Theresa, also 24, were married only six months before his deployment.
"He called just about every night," Theresa Arnold said, clinging to her husband.
Although Arnold didn't come in contact with many Iraqis during his stay, he saw photographs taken by fellow soldiers showing the people smiling and giving the "thumbs up" sign.
Arnold recently signed up for six more years in the service.
Community support
Businesses along Mahoning Avenue displayed signs welcoming the soldiers home and thanking them for their service.
Capt. Mark A. Stepuk, commander of the company, thanked the troops' families for their support.
"The care packages kept morale high," he said.