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With his son, Jonathan, 7, on his shoulders, and his daughter, Deanna, 10, by his side, Staff Sgt. John Garcia, of Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, was all smiles during a redeployment ceremony at Finney Fitness Facility on Conn Barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany.
With his son, Jonathan, 7, on his shoulders, and his daughter, Deanna, 10, by his side, Staff Sgt. John Garcia, of Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, was all smiles during a redeployment ceremony at Finney Fitness Facility on Conn Barracks in Schweinfurt, Germany. (Mark St.Clair / S&S)

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — Finney Fitness Facility was crackling with excitement Tuesday as more than 800 members of Schweinfurt’s Dagger Brigade returned home from Iraq.

With the 300 who arrived Monday — and the same number due Wednesday — 1,400 troops will have returned in 36 hours, leaving fewer than 300 soldiers of the thousands who deployed last year still far from home.

“And they’re all in Kuwait loading equipment,” Lt. Col. Robert Whittle said of the remaining Dagger soldiers, adding with a smile: “They’ll definitely be home by Christmas.”

As commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s rear detachment, Whittle and his staff have been overseeing the numerous redeployments of the past few weeks.

Along with the scores of soldiers from units such as 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery and the 299th Forward Support Battalion, Tuesday’s group included the brigade’s commander, Col. J.B. Burton.

Marching at the head of a 270-man formation, Burton looked tired, but proud of the tough job he and his soldiers did.

“We had 15 months of hard fighting and 15 months of positive change everywhere Dagger Brigade was located,” Burton said shortly before marching in.

“[There is a] tremendous sense of accomplishment, but one that’s extremely fragile,” he said, speaking of volatile Baghdad and Ramadi, neighborhoods that his men recently left.

Asked how it felt to be home with his own family, Burton mentioned only his soldiers.

“They’re ready for a well-deserved break, you can see it in their eyeballs right now,” he said. “Everybody’s happy (to be back) … but there is remorse that some soldiers won’t be coming home.”

The brigade’s senior enlisted man, Command Sgt. Maj. John Fortune, echoed his commander’s sentiments.

“They definitely performed great,” Fortune said. “They were given a real hard mission in Baghdad. There’s a lot to be proud of.”

One of Tuesday’s many returnees was Capt. Stephen Polacek of the 299th. “It’s good to be home for the holidays this year for once,” while holding his 15-month-old daughter, Sydney, who was born days before he left for Iraq. Polacek actually was allowed to deploy late because his wife, Sarah, was due.

Another relieved soldier was Staff Sgt. Brahima Coulibaly, of 1-7’s Company A.

“If there’s a word beyond happy, that’s what I am … after having my (5-year-old and 22-month-old) daughters asking for me every day. I’m happy just to get back to life,” he said.

“Thank God that our nation produces soldiers like that,” Burton said, when asked about his soldiers and the heroism they displayed over the past 15 months.

“(As commanders) we cannot become jaded to the fact that there are heroics every day,” Burton said, “what the soldiers do is not what normal people do. It makes my heart swell with pride.”

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