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Ex-POWs to head home Saturday

The freed POWs wave during a brief appearance Friday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
The freed POWs wave during a brief appearance Friday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

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Seven U.S. soldiers held as Iraqi prisoners of war will head home to the U.S. on Saturday. CNN's Matthew Chance reports (April 18)
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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (CNN) -- Seven U.S. soldiers held as Iraqi prisoners of war for nearly three weeks will be headed home Saturday, officials at Ramstein Air Base said Friday.

The soldiers, taken captive early in the war, are set to leave Ramstein's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center at 6 a.m. EDT (12 p.m. local time). Five are from a maintenance company that was ambushed near Nasiriya, Iraq. The other two are Apache helicopter pilots.

"We want to thank all of our fellow Americans for the tremendous support we've been getting," said Chief Warrant Officer David Williams, speaking on Friday for the group. "We're looking forward to coming home as soon as we possibly can."

One of the families, which did not want to be identified, told CNN earlier that the reunions are expected to take place at Fort Hood, Texas, where the two pilots are based.

The Army will arrange for many of the soldiers' family members to fly to Fort Hood, and other relatives will use donated airline tickets, the family told CNN.

Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young Jr.'s father said his son told him early Friday from Germany that he was being treated for dehydration but that he was "feeling good."

Asked how the reunion would be, Ronald Young Sr. said, "I'm sure there are going to be some tears, tears of joy though, not tears of sadness. And that's a 100 percent difference."

The soldiers arrived at Landstuhl on Wednesday, where teams of psychologists and doctors have debriefed and treated them.

"All of the returnees are in good spirits and are eagerly awaiting their journey home. They have had thorough physical assessments and none of their injuries appear to be serious," said Col. David Rubenstein, commander of Landstuhl.

The seven are spending much of their time "resting, talking with friends, catching up on the latest movies and watching the news," Rubenstein said.

Before Wednesday, the former POWs had been resting and undergoing medical checks at an undisclosed facility in Kuwait for several days.

Officials at Landstuhl said they are particularly concerned about Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, who suffered bullet wounds in both feet. Although she walked on her bandaged feet when the group was rescued Sunday, officials said she might require further surgery.

The soldiers were rescued Sunday by a group of Marines sent to Samarra, Iraq, 75 miles north of Baghdad, to keep traffic from interfering with coalition tanks headed to battle in Tikrit, Iraq. When the Marines got there, an Iraqi policeman asked if they had come for the prisoners, then led them to a nearby building, where they found the U.S. soldiers being held under armed guard.

The five members of the 507th Maintenance Company rescued are Johnson; Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23; Sgt. James Riley, 31; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23; and Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21.

They were captured in the same incident as former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch, also of the 507th. Their convoy took a wrong turn and drove into an ambush near Nasiriya on March 23. Several other members of the unit were killed in the fight.

Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young Jr., 26, and Williams, 30, were captured March 24 when their Apache attack helicopter made a hard landing in an area held by Iraqi fighters. Young said Sunday that the helicopter was forced down by antiaircraft artillery fire.

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