Soldiers headed to Iraq take care of last-minute paperwork at the Grafenwöhr Field House on Thursday.

Soldiers headed to Iraq take care of last-minute paperwork at the Grafenwöhr Field House on Thursday. (Seth Robson/S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The 172nd Infantry Brigade has cased its colors and soldiers are making final preparations to deploy on a yearlong mission to Iraq.

Sgt. Michael Taylor, 29, of Killeen, Texas, 172nd’s public affairs officer, said the brigade colors were cased during a deployment ceremony at Schweinfurt last week.

The ceremony capped the two-day "Blackhawk Rendezvous" — a series of sports events including combatives, flag football, handball, ax throwing and archery — designed to boost soldier and family morale ahead of the deployment, he said.

This week 172nd soldiers were filing through processing centers at Grafenwöhr and Schweinfurt to take care of last-minute paperwork.

Chief warrant officer Vincent Freeman, 35, of Atlantic City, N.J., who was overseeing the process at the Grafenwöhr Field House on Thursday, said soldiers were taking care of medical and dental needs, drafting wills and powers of attorney, updating life insurance policies, sorting out financial matters and arranging storage for household goods.

"We are basically ensuring that soldiers can go to the theater of operations without worrying about garrison responsibilities," he said.

Soldiers with families in Germany went through a separate process that included spouses and officials from Army Community Services, the legal office and chaplains, he said.

Staff Sgt. Luis Osejo, 29, of Miami, said his focus is on financial matters.

"I’m going to be gone and I want to make sure the bills get paid," he said, adding that he’s still got payments to make on a 2002 Chevy Cavalier.

"Hopefully by the time I get back it will be paid for," he said.

Although Osejo is married with a 13-month-old son, he said he won’t be leaving them in Germany while he’s downrange. They’re staying in Virginia, he said.

"My wife was a little scared about coming here since I’m going downrange," he explained.

It will be Osejo’s first mission downrange.

He spent the last few years supporting ground troops in a military intelligence unit back in the U.S., he said.

"Whenever my buddies talked about deployments I just listened and now it is going to be, ‘I’ve been there and done that.’ It’s a good opportunity to get some firsthand experience but I’m sure it won’t be the last time," he said.

Sgt. Gretchen Hubbard, 21, of Toledo, Ohio, only got back from a 15-month mission to Iraq a year ago.

She used her time in Europe to go snowboarding in Switzerland, attend Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, and visit Prague in the Czech Republic.

Is it too soon to go back downrange?

"I’m not married. I don’t have kids so I don’t have emotional ties to anybody here in Germany. It is nice to make that much money and save up for when I leave the Army," she said.

What goes through a soldier’s mind in the final days before deployment?

"After all the stuff is packed up, that part can be a little annoying, but after all of it is gone, you are excited to go," she said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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