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WIESBADEN, Germany - “Papa, Papa!” the jubilant voice rang out through the Fitness Center on Wiesbaden’s Clay Kaserne on Wednesday night, as 5-year-old Cristian raced ahead of his mother and two siblings to embrace his father.

Sgt. 1st Class Jose Ortiz Bello smiled as he felt the bear hug around his legs.

Ortiz Bello was one of about 150 soldiers from V Corps who were welcomed home from a nearly year-long deployment to Afghanistan with homemade signs, balloons, flowers, American flags and lots of tissues.

“I finally made it home,” said Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Martin, whose neck was draped in a Hawaiian lei adorned with candy that his wife, Tiffany, a Hawaiian native, had made for him.

What he missed most while away? A home-cooked meal. Martin quickly listed the things his wife had waiting for him on the dinner table. “Smothered pork chops, mashed potatoes, cabbage, cornbread, sweet tea.”

Most of the deployed V Corps headquarters staff supervised coalition operations throughout Afghanistan, leading the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, or IJC. V Corps staff made up about one-third of the IJC HQ itself, which represents 49 NATO and coalition partner nations.

Other V Corps troops were stationed throughout the country working with U.S. Forces Afghanistan, the NATO training mission, and ISAF headquarters. Others, were sent further afield to places like Qatar and Kuwait.

Once in Afghanistan they hit the ground running, arriving as the drawdown of U.S. surge troops was just getting underway.

“We had from the time we got there in June until September to get 30,000 troops out of country and then adjust the force structure in theater to accomplish the mission,” said Col. Matt Mattner, V Corps deputy chief of staff, in an interview Wednesday.

The job was further complicated by a 30 percent staff reduction of key organizations, such as IJC, U.S. Forces Afghanistan and ISAF, Mattner said.

Another main focus for the V Corps was to help implement the shift from executing combat missions to providing a training, advising and assistance role to Afghan security forces.

“That’s a pretty big paradigm shift, and it’s a cognitive shift as well, but the Afghans, they’re going to do it their way and they do it their way successfully,” Mattner said.

Right now, Afghan security forces are the lead force in about 76 percent of the country, according to Mattner. He said that figure would soon reach about 87 percent.

Insider attacks on coalition troops last year by members of the Afghan security forces didn’t set back the mission, Mattner said, adding that adjustments were made to minimize them.

“The individuals who killed the coalition forces is such a small number, but what the media doesn’t show us is the close ties of the 99.5 percent of the Afghans and the coalition who are working side-by-side with each other,” Mattner said, adding that it was Afghans, in many cases, who recognized and engaged the insider threats.

The remainder of the almost 600 soldiers who deployed with V Corps are slated to return over the next few weeks, marking one of the last chapters in the history of the unit, which is scheduled to inactivate later this year.

The V Corps’ inactivation will mark the end of the Army’s only permanently forward-deployed corps, and will end its more than 60-year presence in Germany.

Formed in 1918, V Corps was nicknamed “Victory Corps” for its rapid advance in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive during World War I. In 1944, it landed on the beaches of Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

V Corps has maintained its presence in Germany since 1951, where it defended the Fulda Gap during the Cold War. V Corps elements also served around the world, in places such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Kuwait and Iraq.

Despite the impending inactivation, the returning troops and their families and friends had other things on their minds Wednesday.

“I’m 10,000 excited,” said 5-year-old Maddison about celebrating with her father, Sgt. Brent Nielsen, once they got home.

And how long had Nielsen been waiting for this moment?

“The whole tour, all 11 months,” he said.

patton.mark@stripes.com


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