FAIRBANKS — After a yearlong deployment to Iraq, it’s the little things about being back home that matter most to members of Fort Wainwright’s Stryker brigade.
“The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane was the smell, the smell of pine trees and fresh air,” Lt. Sean Raleigh said. The personnel officer spent only a couple of weeks in Fairbanks before he was shipped off to Iraq with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry.
He said he plans to take in all Alaska has to offer during his next few weeks of leave time.
Raleigh is just one of the more than 4,000 men and women in the brigade who were welcomed back to Fairbanks on Thursday during a redeployment ceremony at the Carlson Center.
Thousands of soldiers and their families packed into the arena to witness the formal uncasing of the colors, the removal of a covering from the brigade’s flag that signifies the troops officially have returned to work at the post.
The 1-25th’s yearlong mission in Iraq’s Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, focused on counterinsurgency operations and rebuilding the infrastructure of the country. After two years of preparation and action in Iraq, Col. Burt Thompson, commander of the brigade, said he was pleased to sum up the deployment in two words: Mission accomplished.
“Words simply cannot describe what these soldiers have done as individuals and as a team,” he said.
Maj. Gen. William Troy, the commander of U.S. Army Alaska, echoed that sentiment during his speech to the capacity crowd.
He praised soldiers for making living conditions in Diyala the best they have been in years while protecting their loved ones in the United States.
“What you did was with the Iraqis, yes, but it wasn’t for Iraq,” he said. “It was for our security at home.”
The hourlong ceremony also featured a tribute to the 12 members of the brigade and attached units who died in support of the mission.
“Please know that your loved ones will never be forgotten,” Troy said. “Every time we look at our flag, we will know we remain free because young Americans put themselves in harm’s way.”
Gov. Sean Parnell singled out the brigade for its protection of 300 polling sites during national elections in January in Iraq.
“Your work was vital because democracy cannot work without free elections,” he said.
Also attending the event were former Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd. The Palins’ oldest son, Track, is stationed at Fort Wainwright with the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Palin, who the brigade commander called “the senior mom of the brigade,” did not speak publicly at the event and declined to talk to the media, citing the need to keep the focus on soldiers.
After the ceremony, a sizable crowd surrounded Palin as she spent more than a half-hour posing for pictures with recently returned soldiers and their families.
A small group of soldiers from the 1-25th is in transit from Iraq, escorting the brigade’s equipment back to Fort Wainwright. Beginning today, most of the brigade will go on leave for about the next month. Many soldiers said they plan to return to their hometowns in the Lower 48.
After that, soldiers will begin resetting equipment and healing physically and mentally from their time overseas, Thompson said. In about 18 months, he said, the brigade likely will be deployed again.
That would be about four months less time than soldiers in the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team had before deploying with the re-flagged 1-25th.
“We don’t have our orders yet, but we’ll be ready to go anywhere,” Thompson said.
Fairbanks Daily News Miner