?I'll be back before you know it'

By Ed Brock

Before setting out for war, Army National Guard Sgt. Jonathan Hobgood hugged his mother goodbye.

"He said, ?I'll be back before you know it," said Kitty Hobgood of Jonesboro.

It would be months before she would see her son again, and then for just for a short two weeks when he came home to see his newly born son, Justice. His father, the Rev. Jesse Hobgood, had not seen Jonathan for more than a year before he finally came home for good on Monday.

"It's good to be home," Jonathan Hobgood says when asked about his experiences in the war.

On Thursday the reunited family sat together in the living room of Jesse and Kitty Hobgood's house on Holborn Court. In the front yard a small tree was covered with yellow ribbons and a bright yellow banner welcomed Hobgood back to the United States and civilian life. On Sunday the 22-year-old war veteran, his wife Corrie and Justice will return to Bossier City, La., the family's hometown.

Hobgood and his wife were married in February 2003, two days before Hobgood's unit, the 1083rd Transportation Company based at Fort Minden, La., was activated. His father performed the ceremony, which was hurried because the younger Hobgood had a sense that he would be called up soon.

The 1083rd arrived after the war had begun and took up their station in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

"We were there maybe two days out of the week to re-supply," Hobgood said.

The rest of the time Hobgood was behind the wheel of a 70-ton heavy vehicle transport, carrying tanks and bulldozers to all parts of Iraq.

"We had countless trips into Baghdad," Hobgood said.

It was hot, Hobgood said, with highs reaching up to 157 degrees. And it was sandy.

"He said it was like a beach without water," Jesse Hobgood said.

And then there was the actual combat.

"Every other trip north we would be attacked somehow, sniper fire, rocket propelled grenade, something," Hobgood said.

Kitty Hobgood grew nervous every time she heard about another attack on soldiers in Iraq, most of which seemed to involve convoys in which her son might be driving.

"He didn't tell me about the worst things until he got home," Kitty Hobgood said.

That was deliberate, said Hobgood, since he knew his family had enough to worry about.

"Especially me since I was pregnant," Corrie Hobgood said.

Jessie Hobgood said his son's superior officer once tried to discourage him from going on a particularly dangerous mission because he was married, but Hobgood went anyway.

"He always was a tough guy," Kitty Hobgood said.

But of the 240 soldiers in his company, Hobgood said, none of them failed to make it home alive.

"That was a miracle. We had a lot of people praying for us, and we were praying, too," Hobgood said.

The Iraqi people had mixed reactions to American troops, Hobgood said.

"A lot of them were very friendly, or at least they presented themselves as friendly," Hobgood said. "You could drive through one village and they'd scream ?I love you.' Then there were other towns that you went through where you knew you weren't welcome."

But there were many times when he could see the changes they were making, and Hobgood said the war was something that needed to be done.

"When you see the kids and what they go through it kind of hits home what you're doing and what you're freeing them from," Hobgood said.

But while freeing the Iraqi people from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was a good thing that wasn't what Hobgood was fighting for.

Holding his wife's hand and encompassing her, his parents and son with a quick gesture, he said, "This is what I was fighting for."