'Mission accomplished': Some Marawi troops head home to their families

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Marawi City (CNN Philippines, October 20) — After President Rodrigo Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi City, the military has started to downsize its troops on the ground.

RELATED: Duterte declares liberation of Marawi

Marawi's first responders ended their tour of duty on Friday.

A send-off ceremony was held for the members of the Army's First Infantry "Always First" Battalion of the Second Infantry Division.

Soldiers wore huge smiles on this cold morning as they collected their things for the ride home, back into warmth of their families.

They even gamely posed for cameras making the "finger heart" sign popularized by Korean pop stars.

The battalion, which is comprised of 288 troops, lost one of their own during their more than four months of fighting in Marawi. Thirteen of their comrades were wounded, and three of them are still in the hospital.

Despite this, the soldiers are excited to return home.

"Masaya naman kami kasi pauwi na kami sa pamilya namin," said Corporal Richard Soriano. "'Yung mga kasamahan namin na nandiyan sa loob, mga tropa namin, siyempre ma-mi-miss namin na kasama namin sa main battle area," he added. (Translation: "We're happy because we're heading home to our families...We will miss our fellow soldiers in the main battle area who are still inside.")

LOOK: Troops return home from Marawi

The battalion watched over  the Raya Madaya or Masiu Bridge and Banggolo or Bayabao Bridge from the ISIS-linked Maute group. These were two of three key bridges that the military fought hard to defend from the terrorists.

Its members were also responsible for the rescue of at least 34 civilians trapped inside the battle zone.

Army's First Infantry Battalion Commander Colonel Chris Tampus told CNN Philippines that what they endured in Marawi has been their most challenging mission yet.

Tampus said the urban terrain and the tactics of Maute fighters made their operations difficult.

"Pinakamatindi na po. Matindi dahil ang kalaban natin very smart at mga bata. And they are using urban terrain. Kami nasanay kami doon sa Sierra Madre which is bulubundukin," Tampus said, referring to the jungles and forests of the Sierra Madre mountain range in the island of Luzon.

(Translation: "This has been the most fierce. Fierce because the enemy was very smart and young. They are using urban terrain. While we (soldiers) were used to the Sierra Madre which is mountainous.")

The Marawi crisis has given the military an indication of the kind of fighting they will wage against terrorism.

"Nakikita namin na 'yung mga future na conflict na haharapin ng Armed Forces. They will be using mga urban areas," Tampus said. (Translation: "We see the future conflicts that the Armed Forces will face.")

This battalion will have a few days of rest before they undergo counter-terrorism training in Camp Mateo Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal with the Australian Army.

After the training, they will be deployed as part of the security forces for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders' summit and a meeting with its dialogue partners in November.

The soldiers are finding satisfaction in having succeeded in their mission to liberate the city from the Maute group and foreign terrorists.

"Very fulfilling, fulfilling because as a combat officer, ito po 'yung mate-test po natin ang preparedness ng unit," said Tampus.

"Nag-live up naman to the expectation ang unit natin. Na-mission accomplished naman po namin," Col. Tampus added.

Tampus and three other officers received a Silver Cross medal for their heroism from AFP Western Mindanao Command chief Lt.Gen. Carlito Galvez during the send-off ceremony.

Galvez said six military battalions will stay in Marawi while its rehabilitation is ongoing.

The fighting in Marawi City began on May 23. The city's liberation was declared on October 17, a day after two of the Maute group's leaders, Abu Sayyaf Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, were killed.