When Doris Blottenberger came to Fort Meade to welcome her brother home from World War II, he stood alone by the roadside waiting for the family car.
When she came again to welcome her granddaughter home from the Persian Gulf war, she was surrounded by several hundred people waiting to welcome the 290th Military Police Company.
The company arrived yesterday, the first Army National Guard unit to come home from the war. It was activated in November from the Towson Armory. As part of a battalion, its mission was to construct a prison camp and guard enemy prisoners of war.
Returning soldiers said the prisoner population peaked at 25,000 as Iraqis swarmed to surrender at the start of the ground war in February. By March, the American MPs began training Saudi soldiers to take over the camp.
"I haven't slept all week, just anxiety," said Blottenberger, who packed Kleenex for the tears she couldn't wait to shed.
Her granddaughter, Spec. Laura Clark of Westminster, marched into the Fort Meade gymnasium as part of the company of 115 soldiers that stood at attention in front of the podium commanded by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Howard Caltrider of Towson, who had come for his son Spec. Christopher Caltrider, was glad to see Schaefer, but wasn't giving him much credit for showing up.
"I hope the hell he shakes the hand of every kid that comes in here because they deserve it," Caltrider said. "If he wants to reach out and touch Maryland, this is the way to do it, not with the rhetoric."
But there wasn't time in a gym full of families aching to embrace the soldiers they hadn't seen in six months. Schaefer held his speech to about a minute.
When the order for dismissal came, the families charged across the gym, waving their flags and balloons.
Spec. Aaron Smothers, who is a Baltimore firefighter in civilian life, held his wife and their 5-year-old daughter.
"We're just glad the mission is completed," he said, and vowed to "take it easy for a while."
His wife gave him the wedding ring that he had been instructed to leave behind in case he had been captured and the enemy had wanted to know whether he had a family.
Smothers returned the ring to his finger and lifted his hand in the air. While in Saudi Arabia, he had tied shoelace around his ring finger as a substitute, he said, "as a reminder that I have a beautiful wife and a beautiful girl."