Second goodbye tougher for 172nd Stryler BCT troops
Stars and Stripes August 26, 2006
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — For some of the American troops whose Iraq tour has been extended in a new attempt to secure Baghdad, saying goodbye a second time was the hardest part.
Earlier this week, about 200 soldiers of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team — many of them pulled back three weeks to two months after redeploying to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and others who stayed in Iraq throughout — gathered under the boiling Iraqi sun to hear brigade commander Col. Michael Shields talk about their extended tour.
“Our influence down here is already being felt,” he said. “Your reputation from Mosul is known here. They understand you will hunt terrorists down.”
The 4th Infantry Division’s Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Riling also attended, to thank returning soldiers and to pass out free phone cards. The 4th ID has operational control of all troops in the Baghdad area.
“I just want to say thanks for coming back,” he told the crowd. “When the nation called for the best, they called for you.”
For the most part, soldiers in the fairly subdued crowd said they would rather be home, but were committed to their duty as soldiers.
“I’m willing to be here as long as I have to be, so my son doesn’t have to be here,” said Sgt. Joe Lopez, 22, of Grand Prairie, Texas.
Spc. Jessica Dixon, 23, of Evart, Mich., said that as a member of the brigade’s advance party, she was grateful for the opportunity to spend two months at home before turning around and coming back to Iraq. But other members of the advance party, like Staff Sgt. Jimmy Carswell, 32, of Dexter, Ga., said spending three weeks at home with his family only made the return more difficult.
“It was harder leaving home for the second time,” he said. “My wife took it real hard. She was upset that we were being sent right back.”
Most soldiers in the unit — especially those who remained in Iraq the whole time — will receive $1,000 extra per month.
Soldiers who didn’t get to go home, like Capt. Chris L’Heureux, 30, of Providence, R.I., said they were grateful to be able to continue their service without interruption. Seeing his family, L’Heureux said, would only have made it more difficult to leave.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to break up again,” he said. “There’s nothing harder than leaving.”
He said that some of his soldiers got a short break at home, but upon their return, almost every soldier said the same thing.
“You talk to soldiers and every one of them [says,] ‘Good to be back, sir,’” he said.