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Members of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade prepare to place wreaths by the temporary memorials of 10 brigade soldiers who died during the unit's 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan. The recognition was part of a Thursday uncasing ceremony for the brigade in Grafenwöhr, Germany, following the unit's July return from deployment.

Members of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade prepare to place wreaths by the temporary memorials of 10 brigade soldiers who died during the unit's 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan. The recognition was part of a Thursday uncasing ceremony for the brigade in Grafenwöhr, Germany, following the unit's July return from deployment. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

Members of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade prepare to place wreaths by the temporary memorials of 10 brigade soldiers who died during the unit's 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan. The recognition was part of a Thursday uncasing ceremony for the brigade in Grafenwöhr, Germany, following the unit's July return from deployment.

Members of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade prepare to place wreaths by the temporary memorials of 10 brigade soldiers who died during the unit's 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan. The recognition was part of a Thursday uncasing ceremony for the brigade in Grafenwöhr, Germany, following the unit's July return from deployment. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

A soldier with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade lays a wreath by a temporary memorial for Sgt. Jerry D. Reed II, one of 10 soldiers with the brigade who died during the unit's deployment to Afghanistan. The recognition was part of a Thursday uncasing ceremony for the brigade in Grafenwöhr, Germany.

A soldier with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade lays a wreath by a temporary memorial for Sgt. Jerry D. Reed II, one of 10 soldiers with the brigade who died during the unit's deployment to Afghanistan. The recognition was part of a Thursday uncasing ceremony for the brigade in Grafenwöhr, Germany. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

Col. Edward T. Bohnemann, left, and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael W. Boom unfurl the colors of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade during a Thursday ceremony in Grafenwöhr, Germany. The brigade returned in July from an 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan.

Col. Edward T. Bohnemann, left, and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael W. Boom unfurl the colors of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade during a Thursday ceremony in Grafenwöhr, Germany. The brigade returned in July from an 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

Soldiers on review pass behind the framed photo Spc. Keith D. Benson, one of 10 soldiers from the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade who died during the unit's 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan. The brigade, which returned in July, uncased its colors during a ceremony Thursday in Grafenwöhr, Germany.

Soldiers on review pass behind the framed photo Spc. Keith D. Benson, one of 10 soldiers from the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade who died during the unit's 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan. The brigade, which returned in July, uncased its colors during a ceremony Thursday in Grafenwöhr, Germany. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Strip)

Lt. Col. Jayson C. Gilberti, commander of the 9th Engineer Battalion, salutes his commander, Col. Edward T. Bohnemann, during a review at a Thursday uncasing ceremony for the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade in Grafenwöhr, Germany. The brigade returned in July from an 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan.

Lt. Col. Jayson C. Gilberti, commander of the 9th Engineer Battalion, salutes his commander, Col. Edward T. Bohnemann, during a review at a Thursday uncasing ceremony for the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade in Grafenwöhr, Germany. The brigade returned in July from an 11-month deployment to eastern Afghanistan. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — After a yearlong deployment in one of Afghanistan’s most volatile regions, the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade uncased its colors Thursday in preparation for its next mission — withdrawal from Europe.

Pentagon plans call for the heavy infantry brigade to inactivate by September 2013 as part of a broader reduction of Army forces across Europe. A similar combat brigade, the 170th in Baumholder, is expected to complete its inactivation by October.

The coming months will find the 172nd shrinking as a unit, steadily losing manpower and equipment. As soldiers clear out of the unit, they will not be replaced, said Staff Sgt. Charles Crail, the brigade spokesman. The unit of roughly 4,600 — of whom 3,500 deployed — should be down to half its size by year’s end and a quarter by next spring, Crail said.

On Thursday, the 172nd’s commander, Col. Edward T. Bohnemann, focused his remarks on the past 11 months of deployment, which saw his brigade scattered across Paktika province and parts of Ghazni and Nangahar provinces. the unit was involved in combat operations and the training of Afghan soldiers and police.

“This progress that we saw this last year did not come without much blood, sweat, tears and coffee to keep the momentum moving in the right direction,” he said.

Some of the heaviest fighting was in eastern Paktika, near the border with Pakistan, a region marked by cross-border incursions and attempted large-scale attacks by militants, as well as decaying relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

In October, soldiers in one outpost repelled a truck bomb moments before it struck an outside wall of their compound. The resulting explosion was strong enough to send a shock wave through the outpost, injuring some soldiers.

Bohnemann on Thursday made brief reference to the militants’ sophistication.

“Although well-trained and well-equipped, the insurgent forces in the east were no match for the combined Afghan and (battalion) forces that were operating there,” he said.

The brigade lost 10 soldiers during the deployment, six of them killed in combat action. Two soldiers committed suicide, one died of natural causes and a third died in an accident.

Those deaths were remembered Thursday, with framed pictures of each of the men propped in front of the parade field.

Eighty-five soldiers with the brigade were injured in combat, Bohnemann said. One of them, Spc. Matthew A. Melancon, of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, traveled with his wife to Thursday’s ceremony from San Antonio, where he is being treated for leg injuries from a roadside bomb three months into the deployment.

“It was really important for me to come out and see them all come back,” Melancon said. “I didn’t exactly get a chance to say goodbye.”

beardsleys@estripes.osd.mil


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