Soldiers return to Fort Bragg after 9-month deployment in Afghanistan
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: October 24, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Nearly 150 Fort Bragg families were reunited early Tuesday, as soldiers from the 525th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade returned from Afghanistan.
Families and friends of the soldiers welcomed their troops home shortly after midnight at Green Ramp.
For the past nine months, the soldiers led intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations across Afghanistan in support of coalition and Afghan forces, including special operations forces.
Col. Daniel J. Benick, the commander who led the soldiers home to Fort Bragg, said the brigade had a clear impact on efforts to defeat terror networks, combat the illegal drug trade and protect coalition troops.
“I am immensely proud of their accomplishments throughout this deployment, conducting full spectrum intelligence operations across the country to protect the force, neutralize insurgent threats and defeat enemy networks in support of good governance and security in Afghanistan,” he said.
The brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Support Company oversaw efforts in Afghanistan, leading nearly 250 soldiers and civilians. The bulk of those troops came from the brigade’s 519th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion, led by Lt. Col. Danielle Corke, which is also based at Fort Bragg.
Early Tuesday, the brigade and battalion uncased their colors in a short ceremony at Green Ramp, marking the end of deployments that began in March.
Soldiers said their return flight hit bad weather as it approached Fort Bragg. They expressed relief that the weather did not divert or delay their arrival.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Spc. Emily Dwyer of returning home. “It’s indescribable.”
Dwyer was marking the end of her first deployment. Her husband of two-and-a-half years, Sgt. Erin Dwyer of the 82nd Airborne Division, was there to greet her.
“I’m extremely proud of her,” Sgt. Dwyer said.
“I keep saying it’s not real yet,” added Spc. Dwyer. “I need somebody to pinch me.”
Benick’s daughter, 13-year-old Claire, was among those welcoming the soldiers home.
Claire said she doesn’t know how many times her father has deployed. She said this time it was different, as she was old enough to keep in touch with him during the deployment.
“I emailed him every night and he emailed me every night,” she said.
With the time difference, that meant both Benicks had an email waiting on them each morning.
Claire said that constant communication made the deployment easier, but said it was difficult not having her father around for several months.
Benick deployed nine days after the family moved to Fort Bragg. While deployed, he also missed moving his son into college for his freshman year.
Claire said she tried to make Monday as normal as possible, going to school and otherwise not dwelling too much on the anticipation of her father’s return.
“It doesn’t feel real yet,” she said as she waited for the soldiers to march into Green Ramp. “But I’m really excited… I’m just looking forward to having him here.”
The 525th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade typically supports the 18th Airborne Corps and related units. It became the first expeditionary military intelligence brigade in the Army when it was reorganized in 2014. Benick said the brigade was the first of its kind to assume oversight of the majority of intelligence support operations in Afghanistan.
Benick assumed command of the brigade in Afghanistan in July and said he was impressed by the high standards and commitment the soldiers showed while deployed.
He said the brigade’s troops would get a much-needed break before they began preparing for their next mission.
“The fast-moving train here at Fort Bragg never stops,” he said.
In Afghanistan, the brigade’s troops were spread across 12 forward operating bases and supported a full spectrum of operations. They led and synchronized aerial and ground intelligence collection, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Their efforts included oversight of more than 90 kinetic operations against enemy forces in Afghanistan, the reduction of approximately $95.1 million of illicit narcotics and the detection of more than 200 improvised explosive devices.
Soldiers from the 519th conducted more than 600 intelligence collection patrols, producing thousands of reports.
The brigade’s efforts drove numerous operations, officials said, resulting in the killing or capture of more than 150 enemy forces.
On Tuesday, however, Benick said he would rather focus on what the families did to support the soldiers while deployed.
“Your dedication and devotion to us has been tremendous,” he told those who gathered to welcome the troops. “And it is only due to your efforts that we were able to do our jobs to a high standard.”
“You should be very proud of this team and what your team member has done over the course of this deployment,” Benick added.
Deb Gilbertson, whose husband is a chaplain, Maj. Chuck Gilbertson, said she couldn’t be any prouder of her soldier.
Over the past nine months, Gilbertson has juggled the household – five of eight children still live at home – and a full-time job as a nurse at Womack Army Medical Center’s Acute Care Clinic.
“It’s stressful being a military spouse, but I think it’s an honor and a privilege and I love it,” she said.
Gilbertson said her husband missed nearly every birthday in the house and the couple’s anniversary. But that’s all worth it knowing that he was home safe.
“We’re resilient. We’ve done this before. He made it, and we’re just ready to have our soldier home,” she said. “I’m thankful he’s home. I thank God that everybody’s coming home safe.”
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3567.
©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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