- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2003

LINTHICUM, Md. (AP) — Glancing up from her ticket counter at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Sharon Whittington couldn’t believe what she saw: her son, Army Reserve Spc. Adrian Dupree, home from Iraq.

Spc. Dupree and 191 other soldiers arrived home yesterday for two weeks of rest and recuperation in the first wave of the military’s home-leave program. But Mrs. Whittington did not know her son would be among them.

“My knees just got totally weak,” said Mrs. Whittington, who works at the airport for Frontier Airlines. “And then I flew over the counter and just hugged my child for all I was worth. I’ve been missing my child since the day he left. I did a lot of praying since he’s been gone, and now I feel like my prayers have been answered.”

Arriving at 6 a.m., the soldiers entered the airport’s international terminal with backpacks on their shoulders, sand-colored camouflage uniforms on their backs and big smiles on their faces. A dozen waiting relatives burst into applause.

After waving to TV cameras, soldiers rushed into the arms of their loved ones or to nearby pay phones. Others, like Spc. Dupree, wanted to surprise their families. All said they looked forward to home-cooked meals and a little extra sleep.

For Spc. Dupree, a 24-year-old Baltimore native stationed in Riverdale, the airport marked the end of a 16-hour trip that began Thursday and included a layover in Germany, where 78 soldiers got off for leave in Europe. Most of those who landed at Baltimore-Washington International planned to take connecting flights elsewhere.

“It’s going to be pretty wild being home,” said Spc. Dupree, a member of the 352nd Civil Affairs Command in Baghdad. “Actually, I feel pretty normal right now — like I haven’t even been away. But that’s probably because I’m standing in the airport.”

Spc. Dupree’s fiancee, Mieasha Pompe, said the leave, though brief, was the end of a seven-month wait.

The program was ordered to provide relief and boost morale for forces serving 12-month tours in the hot, dangerous and sometimes primitive conditions in Iraq, as well as those in support roles in neighboring countries. That means it’s available to the vast majority of the more than 130,000 troops deployed there, officials said.

The program offers 15-day vacations, with some transportation paid.

The government pays for the flights to Germany and Baltimore. Troops continuing on from there to their homes or other places will cover that expense. Eventually the military hopes to have flights to Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles.

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