Local Marine welcomed home from Iraq, soldier Afghanistan-bound

December 18, 2011 5:23:38 PM PST
History was made early Sunday morning in Iraq. The last American combat soldiers left the country, signifying the end of the war in Iraq.

After the troops crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border, the gate was closed behind them.

Tonight, military families across the nation are preparing to welcome home their loves ones who are returning from service in Iraq.

But as one war ends, another war continues: the war in Afghanistan.

That war has two local families experiencing two very different scenarios.

More than 100 people gathered outside Wal-Mart in Humble on Sunday to celebrate the return of one serviceman and bid goodbye to another.

23-year-old Marine Corps Corporal Matthew Morales of Atascocita is home for good.

"It's a really good feeling. Hasn't really set in that I'm home for good," Morales said.

He's served in the U.S. military for four years, including one year in Afghanistan. He's also one of the 1.5 million American men and women to serve in Iraq.

"To see this many people here for something like this, I couldn't be happier. Grateful to everyone out here," he said.

Morales was just 14 when the war began. After sacrifices, battles and lost friends, he says he's just glad he and his buddies are back home.

"As long as you're over there with your brothers and your sisters there and you come home with them, that's the biggest thing," Morales said.

But as the crowd welcomes home one serviceman, another is getting ready to leave.

Army Specialist Carlos Ryan Calderon thought he was going to Wal-Mart for a family picture, but he was met with the surprise Texas-sized send-off.

"This is amazing. This is a great surprise," Calderon said. "We do appreciate everybody's support."

The 27-year-old is with the 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Bragg. He's poised to leave for his first tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"What we're really doing up there is basically trying to go ahead and teach them how to take care of themselves," Calderon said. "Yes, we still have battles going on over there. The war in Iraq, that's a good push, but we still got stuff to do.We still have stuff to take care of."

Calderon will spend the holidays with his family. He leaves for Afghanistan on January 29.

As for Morales, he plans to start school, become a certified EMT and go to work for the Houston Fire Department.

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