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Northern Nevada troops return for the holidays

Jill Lufrano
Sgt. Tanya Leonard hugs her Family Wednesday morning at the Carson City Airport after returning from Iraq. She is show hugging her husband Steven and her daughters Britney, 9, (on left) Sydney, 11, and Sierra, 9 (not shown).
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Her children ran across the airport blacktop just as a C-12 plane emblazoned with “United States of America,” carrying Sgt. Tanya Leonard and six other Nevada National Guard troops back from war in Iraq, rolled to a stop.

Leonard’s grandmother watched as the small crowd gathered around each soldier as they stepped off the plane, tired and ready for showers and home-cooked food. She couldn’t find Leonard at first, but the two finally met. With tears in their eyes, they hugged tightly.

The 30-year-old mother of three was glad to be home after the 26-hour flight from Baghdad.

“I was so glad to see my kids and my husband,” Leonard said.

The first thing Leonard said she was going to do after being gone for nearly four months from her home in Fernley was “take a bath.” Her first stop was Starbucks.

Daughter Sierra, 9, said she missed Mom’s cooking, especially her enchiladas.

The group was granted leave for four days to spend the holiday with family in Northern Nevada. Family members didn’t find out until a few days ago about the arrival.

They will return to Fort Lewis, Wash., Sunday to continue demobilization, but will be back in Nevada permanently by late next week, officials said.

Leonard was joined by Sgt. First Class Rick Rapisora of Reno; Sgt. Eric Neville of Carson City; Specialist Donna Menicini of Fernley; Specialist Larry Klein of Sparks; Specialist Chris Parkinson of Monterey, Calif., who is a native of Ely; and Sgt. David Sousa of Reno.

The group was greeted by Col. Carl Hopper of the National Guard, who was the highest ranking officer in charge of logistics and operations.

The U.S. Army’s goal was to get the soldiers home for Thanksgiving, and the timing was close, a guard spokesman said. The group left Kuwait at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, went to Prague and then to Washington, D.C. They arrived at 10 a.m. in Carson.

Leonard’s mother, Cathy Jackson, said she didn’t have any specific plans for the holiday weekend, except to be with her husband and daughters.

“She says that’s the most important thing,” Jackson said.

Carson High School graduate Neville, 37, said that being in Carson was “a lot better than being over there.” Neville will return to his full-time job as a correctional officer with the state of Nevada.

Specialist Klein, 29, who spent the past six months helping to open a prison in Baghdad, said the worst part of the trip was the heat in July.

He said he missed his wife, Sandra, and 3-year-old son.

“I can’t wait to see them,” Klein said.

Contact Jill Lufrano at 881-1217 or jkeller@nevadaappeal.com.