A rainbow of guidons and flags snapped in the stiff breeze Wednesday as the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team officially ended its second tour in Iraq.
Desert camouflage jackets that the brigade’s soldiers wore during the welcome-home ceremony at Smith Barracks were the only allusion to the grim circumstances they faced just weeks ago.
“All these soldiers on the field, let me tell you how pleased, but not surprised I am, with your tremendous performance and accomplishments,” Maj. Gen. Fred D. Robinson, the division’s commander, told them. “They just don’t get any better than Iron Soldiers just like you.”
Uncasing their unit’s colors back in Baumholder brought a sense of closure for some soldiers; for others, Wednesday could have been just another day.
For Sgt. Chad Rozanski, Wednesday’s ceremony was not the same old business. He was severely wounded July 2 when a roadside bomb caused his Humvee to roll over. He lost both legs.
Since July he’s been at Brooke Army Medical Center rehabilitating. This was his first time back in Baumholder since the unit deployed last November, and his first time seeing his buddies, who gathered donations to fly him and his wife to Germany for the welcome-home ceremony.
“It’s been nice, because now I can get closure on a lot of things,” he said.
Next to him stood Master Sgt. Michael Morton, who was in the Humvee with Rozanski during the blast. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to be here today,” Rozanski said.
“It lifts my spirits beyond belief that he’s back and has a good attitude,” said Morton, who was also injured in the attack.
But for Staff Sgt. Steven Johnson, 34, a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, Wednesday was simply another day between this last deployment and his next. “On my first deployment I felt like I had come full circle,” he said. “But now it just feels routine.”
The Houston native spent his second stint in Iraq guarding the gates at his unit’s base in Ramadi and participating in patrols with the scouts.
Since he’s been home, he’s tried to catch up on the year he missed with his wife, daughter and two sons.
“I feel like every time I come back, I’m coming back to different people,” he said.
Spc. Luis Rivera, 30, a member of Company B, 141 Signal Battalion, was happy to be home and trying not to think of the future or the past.
“I’m just taking it one day at a time right now and enjoying it,” he said. “After being there, in Iraq, you learn to appreciate life.”
After the ceremony, Rivera sat in a gigantic festival tent drinking large cups of cold beer with some pals from his unit including Spc. Nathan Kovell, 23.
Asked about his favorite part of being back, Kovell, 23, of Temecula, Calif., silently raised his beer and smiled. The other soldiers sitting with him laughed.
“I’d rather be in Iraq right now,” he admitted. Well, he wouldn’t mind going on leave for a while first, he admitted, but then he’d like to go back.
“That’s why I joined the Army: to go fight. You can’t fight if you’re in Germany,” Kovell said. He recently re-enlisted to become a cavalry scout.