Thousands of well-wishers hoisted flags and burst into cheers as the C-17 transport plane landed on a wind-swept runway at Fort Bliss. Two servicemen poked their heads through a hatch on top of the plane, holding an American flag and waving to the crowd as the plane taxied along the tarmac.
Friends and family gathered under the tail of the plane with open arms as the soldiers exited, including Spc. Shoshana Johnson, who gripped a flag in each hand and hopped on one leg as she was helped onto a golf cart. She was shot in both ankles by Iraqi fighters.
The cart then took a victory lap in front of the overjoyed crowd, which occasionally broke into chants of "USA! USA!" Spc. Joseph Hudson, one of the former POWs, jumped off the cart at one point and said "This is a great country. God bless America!"
After a private reception and dinner of submarine sandwiches, cookies and pink lemonade, the five Fort Bliss soldiers were to spend the night at the post to undergo evaluation by doctors from nearby William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said. The two other soldiers were heading to their base of Fort Hood.
"They are in great shape and great spirits," said Col. Glenn Mitchell, commander at the medical center.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, Saddam Hussein's finance minister was arrested and a top scientist turned himself in, U.S. officials said Saturday, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the search for the toppled regime's wealth as well as any biological and chemical weapons.
In other developments:
TheU.S. Central Command said Saturday that members of the newly revived Iraqi police force arrested Hikmat Mizban Ibrahim al-Azzawi, Saddam's finance chief and a deputy prime minister, in Baghdad Friday and turned him over to U.S. troops. He is the "eight of diamonds," number 45 in the deck of 55 cards put out by the U.S. military showing wanted ex-regime leaders.
A Central Command spokesman, Marine Capt. Stewart Upton, suggested that al-Azzawi should know where the regime kept its wealth hidden. "It's money for the people of Iraq, and we seek to have that for the building of the future of Iraq," he said.
Also Friday, Emad Husayn Abdullah al-Ani - depicted as the mastermind of Iraq's nerve agent program - turned himself in to the Americans. Al-Ani may be able to provide information on any chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, or evidence of links between Saddam's regime and the al Qaeda terrorist group.
U.S. officials say he was involved in Iraq's development of the deadly nerve agent VX. He also was accused by U.S. officials in 1998 of involvement with a chemical plant in Sudan linked to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The Central Command also said Khala Khader al-Salahat, a member of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, had surrendered in Baghdad. Abu Nidal, who died in Baghdad last year under murky circumstances, led a terror campaign blamed for more than 275 deaths on several continents.
In addition to al-Azzawi, other figures from the most-wanted list captured previously include Saddam's top science adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi; Saddam's half brothers Watban Ibrahim Hasan and Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, and Samir Abd al-Aziz al-Najim, a senior leader of Saddam's toppled Baath party. Al-Ani was not on the most-wanted list.