2nd BCT's homecoming: Home is a welcome sight after a tough tour
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Los Lobos may be coming to town, but the true headliners at Wednesday’s wingding won’t be on stage singing.
No, they’ll be in the audience, surrounded by family and friends, and happy to be home after a year in Kuwait and Iraq. That and they’ll be pumped up to have a band of Los Lobos’ caliber occupying the high ground.
“You live life differently now,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Harrison of Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
Wednesday’s celebration follows weeks of re-integration training and down time. In a sense, the homecoming party in Baumholder closes the book on a yearlong combat tour.
“Time will tell how we all come out of this,” said Lt. Col. James Danna, commander of 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. “What we’ve seen and what we’ve experienced will have an effect on all of us.”
The brigade suffered 28 combat deaths. Of the seven battalions that deployed, half of the soldiers killed in action served in Danna’s battalion, which operated in Ramadi and the Al Rashid district in southern Baghdad. Each location claimed seven of his soldiers.
Four other battalions lost men, too.
When a comrade in arms dies or is gravely injured, “every soldier feels pain in some way, regardless if you know the guy or not,” said Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Carter, a fire support sergeant with the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment. “You can take a knee and talk about it for a while, but you’ve got to get back up.”
And roll out the gate, as many of the 2nd BCT soldiers did day after day in Iraq. Danna’s troops, for example, would be out on patrol six days a week, unless there was a mission surge. That seemed to happen a lot.
“Every insurgent seemed to gravitate to Ramadi,” said Carter, who has spent 28 months in Iraq and Kuwait over the course of three tours. “Every day was a fight, every single day.”
Regardless of their battalion, every soldier interviewed for this article said this deployment was much different than the brigade’s first, which lasted about 15 months — from April 2003 to July 2004.
“The first one was not nearly as bad as this one,” said Harrison, who suffered serious head and leg injuries from an improvised explosive device, or IED. “It’s a whole different ballgame down there.”
The warm-up for this deployment actually began a few months after the brigade returned to Baumholder in the summer of 2004, Carter said. By the fall of that year, the brigade’s equipment had returned from Southwest Asia and preparations were well under way to repair the hardware and send the troops back to the training range.
In January 2005, the Pentagon announced that two brigades of the 1st Armored Division — the 1st Brigade out of Friedberg and Giessen and the 2nd BCT based in Baumholder — would deploy to Iraq later in the year. As it turned out, 1st Brigade didn’t depart until January 2006, and has since had its one-year tour extended by several weeks.
Meanwhile, the Baumholder brigade began rolling up to the U.S. Army Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany, in late summer 2005. By then, many of the soldiers were sporting the newly issued digitized Army Combat Uniform, or ACU.
In November, the 2nd BCT headed downrange. It essentially consisted of seven battalions: 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry; 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry; 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment; 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment; 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment; 40th Engineer Battalion; and 47th Forward Support Battalion. In all, about 3,500 troops from Baumholder and nearby Idar-Oberstein deployed.
The brigade stayed in Kuwait for several months, serving as a “call forward force.” Then on March 12, a task force of 700 led by Danna left Kuwait to link up with the 4th Infantry Brigade in Baghdad. Task Force 2-6 arrived amid rising sectarian violence fueled by the Feb. 22 bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra. Danna called the attack a watershed event.
“We didn’t have that level of intense fighting the last time around,” he said.
Over that first 15-month period in 2003 and 2004, the brigade encountered roughly 100 IEDs, many of them crude, homemade devices, recalled Danna, who was the brigade executive officer for that tour. This time, his task force found that many in just the first month of action.
By late May the balance of the brigade had been summoned to Iraq in the form of two task forces. Both were dispatched to different locations around Ramadi in Anbar province, which still is the most volatile spot going.
“I don’t know where all these insurgents came from,” Carter said. “They just seemed to come up out of the ground. They wouldn’t go away.”
Despite the unrelenting attacks, there were notable successes.
Hundreds of Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters were killed or captured, weapons caches were seized, neighborhoods were cleared of criminals and terrorists, and reconstruction efforts continued.
“We’re trying to change Iraq for the better,” Harrison said.
And now the soldiers of the 2nd BCT, 1st Armored Division will try to get on with their lives. There are people to call, relatives to see, places to visit and things to experience besides war.
“To me now, life is precious,” Harrison said. “I don’t let the little things bother me that much anymore. Life is too short.”