The soldiers first landed at Fort Bliss, Texas, late last month for demobilization before heading home to their families and former lives.
Their arrival was bittersweet for many, though, as the men returned without three members of their unit.
Port Henry native Staff Sgt. Dain Venne was killed in action Nov. 3 when an improvised explosive device went off near his vehicle while his unit was clearing a convoy path.
Spc. Ryan Jayne of Campbell and Spc. Brett Gornewicz of Alden were also killed in the blast, which injured a fourth soldier, Kale Clifton of Smyrna.
Venne, a volunteer football coach and firefighter, is now laid to rest in Port Henry.
“There’s no such thing as a safe war, and we all know it could happen, but it’s still difficult,” Santo said somberly from his home Wednesday morning.
“(Venne) was my squad leader the whole time I was there, so it’s been hard.”
He planned a little personal tribute to his fallen comrade on his first official day home.
“One thing I’m going to do today is drive down to Port Henry and see everything,” said Santo, who now sports a wristband honoring the three fallen soldiers.
“I think it’s just something we’re all going to do in our own time.”
As he copes with that sorrow and readjusts to civilian life, Santo said, he’s thankful to have the support of the Army and his fellow soldiers.
Like many service mothers, his mom was elated to have her son home safe but heartbroken for the families who will not share in that joy.
“I’m just so happy and glad he’s home. It’s been difficult, and I definitely had a couple of meltdowns,” she said tearfully.
“And at the same time, I’m so sorry for the other families. My heart goes out to them, and I want them to all know that we’re thinking of them.”
Lord’s mother shared in those somber sentiments and was thinking of the fallen soldiers upon her son’s return.
“You’re happy for yourself, but my heart aches for those families and the soldiers who lost their brothers in arms,” Jamie said.
“My thoughts go out to the families whose sons aren’t coming home.”