54th Engineer Battalion returns from Iraq
By MARK ST.CLAIR | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 29, 2006
BAMBERG, Germany — The 54th Engineer Battalion has come home.
While most units spend their time in Iraq staying as far as possible from roadside bombs, the 54th spent a year actively seeking them out.
And they found them. More than 1,000 of them, said Command Sgt. Maj. Terry L. Defenbaugh, the battalion’s sergeant major.
Rolling up and down the streets of Ramadi and the volatile Anbar province, performing most of their missions at night, the 54th “provided freedom of maneuver for I Marine Expeditionary Force” and other elements in Multi-National Force-West, Defenbaugh said.
“We were extremely successful. I don’t really know how to put it, except to say that it was a privilege to serve with this group of heroes,” he said, praising the soldiers and platoon leaders.
“All the credit goes to the soldiers of the battalion and task force who rolled every night knowing what was waiting for them. And they did it night after night after night.”
During the past week, more than 450 engineers returned to Warner Barracks in three waves, having spent almost a week in transit through Iraq and Kuwait.
The battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Shawn McGinley, with 9-year-old son Alex by his side, said that just before it left Iraq, the 54th was addressed by Marine Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilner, the I Marine Expeditionary Force commander. Zilner praised the troops’ efforts and said they accomplished everything that was asked of them.
“I’m really excited. I’m just happy that nothing happened to him,” Alex said of the safe return of his father.
While waiting for her husband and the rest of the final group, Sarah Wingard had butterflies in her stomach.
There with her three children, she said she felt relief, knowing that her husband, Staff. Sgt. Kevin Wingard, wasn’t in danger anymore. The two have been married for 10 years, and this was the first time she had been through a deployment.
The battalion’s success was not without loss. Six Bamberg-based soldiers died in Iraq, and McGinley said an additional 44 from the task force will receive Purple Hearts. Also, two soldiers and one Marine in units attached to the 54th were killed.
This was the battalion’s second yearlong deployment to Iraq. It also deployed in 2003.