A picnic Thursday at a park in Fairbanks, Alaska, was supposed to have been a welcome home for the troops of the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade, based at nearby Fort Wainwright.
Sgt. Brian Pearce is one of 300 soldiers who got home only to receive the shocking news last week that the brigade's tour of duty had been extended and that he and the others would have to go back to Iraq.
As he gets ready to leave, he says his wife, Angie, has been an unsung hero through all of this.
"She is amazing," says Pearce. "I don't know how she does everything she does."
The Army says its Stryker Brigades operate heavily armored vehicles, ideally suited to deal with the kind of urban warfare that's tearing up Baghdad.
"We need competent units and experienced units, and the 172nd really fits that description to a T," says Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey.
That's little comfort for the families on the home front.
Some have voiced their feelings on an Internet blog, www.bringhome172nd.org.
President Bush said the soldiers have to stay in Iraq, but he didn't have to feel my heart breaking," says Jade Webber, whose husband, Timothy, left for Iraq one year ago Thursday, leaving her and their two small sons. She says when they found out Daddy wasn't coming home, it was shattering.
"I felt like I was dying," says Webber. "All I could do was cry."
The main road through Fort Wainwright is still bedecked with signs welcoming the troops home. But now that the soldiers are shipping out, families will be taking down the signs and storing them for what many hope will be the real homecoming in a few months,
The troops will leave for Iraq on Saturday. Until then, they will try to savor a few last moments of happiness with their families.