Today’s news:

Whitestone Guard troops home after year in Kuwait

After spending a year in Kuwait’s scorching heat and countless sandstorms, the 23 soldiers of the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Finance Battalion were ecstatic to reunite with family and friends at the New York State Armory in Whitestone Saturday.

“It’s very exciting to be home,” said Staff Sgt. Xu Chen, 24, of Flushing. “It’s highly anticipated.”

Chen’s husband, Bishwat Rimal, was also at the welcome-home ceremony Saturday and said he was more than relieved to be able to spend time with his wife, whom he had married just before she deployed in September 2008.

“When she came back, I was just so happy,” said Rimal, 25, of Flushing. “To not see her for a whole year was really tough.”

The returning battalion members, who are home for good, made the 18-hour flight from Kuwait to Atlanta last week and proceeded to take a 17-hour bus to Wisconsin before they eventually landed in New York Saturday.

The soldiers were responsible for providing financial support for soldiers based in Kuwait, the logistical base for operations in Iraq, and they did everything from cashing service member checks to providing funds for reconstruction and civil affairs projects.

Many of the soldiers spoke of their relief at getting away from the 120-degree temperatures and the sand that seemed to permeate everything, Capt. Samsul Alum said.

“It is a very great feeling to be back,” said Alum, of Johnstown, N.Y. “I almost can’t describe it. It’s smelling the grass and no more sand.”

Lt. Col. George P. Wilcha reiterated Alum’s sentiments.

“It’s incredible to be home,” George Wilcha said. “The little things you take for granted, all of a sudden they’re big things — smelling the Sound, seeing the clouds in the sky. I know why there’s the saying ‘I love New York.”

While their loved ones were abroad, Rimal and Wilcha’s wife, Debra Wilcha, said they retained their sanity by focusing on spending time with family.

“I’ve had friends who have had people go away and they couldn’t talk to them for a couple months, so thinking about that it wasn’t that bad for me because we could talk and e-mail all the time,” Rimal said.

Saturday’s welcome-back ceremony was short and to the point, with Army officials thanking the soldiers for their work as the event’s attendees sipped soda and munched on sandwiches.

“We know your families are happy to have you back,” Lt. Col. Isabel Smith said. “Thank you and welcome home.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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