U.S. Army unit returns from deployment in Iraq

A U.S. Army combat support unit stationed in Iraq for more than a year returned home to the San Gabriel Valley today. At the welcoming ceremony, KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez heard quite a few soldiers talk about how the domestic economy has changed.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Shopping won't be the same from now on, said First Lieutenant Paul Martin Dupree.

First Lieutenant Paul Martin Dupree: Linens 'n Things, for example. We were passing by on our way here and it was closed, so we won't be able to get blankets and things for our new home. A couple of restaurants. The place that makes animal cracker cookies is out of business. I'll never be able to have those again, you know. (Laughs)

Guzman-Lopez: Dupree's 137th Quartermaster Company searched vehicles, built showers, and laundered hundreds of thousands of bundles of clothes in Iraq. Dupree, a city engineer in North San Diego County, is three courses away from finishing his masters degree. That's motivating him to buy a house for his wife and seven-month-old son.

First Lieutenant John Goodlin, a prison guard in civilian life, said many of his company's soldiers used their down time in Iraq to research new jobs and find out about layoffs in this country.

First Lieutenant John Goodlin: In the next 90 days, it'll be the real test of whether the employers are going to keep the soldiers there, or are they going to continue to downsize due to the economic status right now.

Guzman-Lopez: Federal law prevents employers from firing reservists because they've been deployed. That's no protection against company-wide layoffs. 22-year-old Specialist Juan Martinez of Chatsworth said he won't return to his job cooking at a restaurant. He planned to take a break before he gets busy again.

Specialist Juan Martinez: Trying to find another job; I don't know yet, I really want to get into culinary arts, so I want to do that.

Guzman-Lopez: Even in this economy, these veterans can use education benefits and federal home loan programs to help smooth the tough transition back to civilian life.