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Last Soldiers Return Home From Iraq
by Army Sgt. Jessica Kuhn - December 24, 2011

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FORT BRAGG, N.C. (12/22/2011) — For many spouses, family members and friends, their holiday wishes came true when their beloved soldiers made it home just in time for the holidays.

“Having these soldiers home safe is the best Christmas present any mother could ask for,” said Sharon Whisner, the mother of Pfc. John Whisner, a paratrooper with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the XVIII Airborne Corps commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Earl L. Rice, the XVIII Abn. Corps command sergeant major, led more than 300 soldiers into the hangar at Pope Army Airfield marking the end of their yearlong deployment to Iraq during a ceremony Dec. 22.

Soldiers from XVIII Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division stand in formation during a redeployment ceremony at Pope Army Airfield Dec. 22, 2011. Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the XVIII Airborne Corps commander, led the way as soldiers marched into the hangar marking the end of their yearlong deployment to Iraq. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Thaddius S. Dawkins II
Soldiers from XVIII Airborne Corps and 82nd Airborne Division stand in formation during a redeployment ceremony at Pope Army Airfield Dec. 22, 2011. Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the XVIII Airborne Corps commander, led the way as soldiers marched into the hangar marking the end of their yearlong deployment to Iraq. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Thaddius S. Dawkins II

The U.S. Army Forces Command commander, Gen. David M. Rodriguez, was there to welcome home the soldiers from XVIII Abn. Corps and the 82nd Abn. Div., while also congratulating them for a job well done.

"You have set the conditions for Iraq to become a free nation," Rodriguez said. "And you moved all the personnel and equipment out after almost nine years of war. There was nothing easy about that.”

During his speech, Rodriguez also offered special thanks to all those people who were back in the rear supporting the deployed soldiers before releasing them to be reunited with their anxiously awaiting loved ones.

“I'm in a dangerous place right now standing between you soldiers and these families behind me dying to see you,” Rodriguez said before releasing the formation.

The next few minutes were full of tearful hugs and kisses along with cheers of laughter and joy as soldiers came together with their families and friends.

“I missed my little buddy so much,” said Spc. Andrew Bolen, a paratrooper with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Abn. Div., referring to his 16 month old son Gabriel, who was hugging his father tightly around the neck. “It was really hard being away from my wife knowing she was back at home taking care of our two little ones. I'm glad I'm home now so I can help her.”

Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, soldiers from Fort Bragg have played a continuous role in the ongoing development of the country, leading to the end of the war, Helmick said.

“Fort Bragg is a national treasure,” Helmick said. “There is a reason Fort Bragg is here, the XVIII Abn. Corps is here and all the soldiers of Fort Bragg are here. So when America calls for America's best, the American paratroopers answer that call, and our commitment is we will do all we can do to make sure everyone comes home safely. Fort Bragg represents America's Army with distinction.”

"The airborne community here is the 911 force for America. We provide that rapid response force that no one else can provide on a moment's notice," Rice added.

Additionally, Helmick expressed his gratitude to the surrounding communities and all their support since the beginning of the war in Iraq.

“I would like to thank the community and surrounding communities for their continued support because, like you said, Fort Bragg has been deployed since 2003 and that is going to continue with Afghanistan, and we could not do our mission without the great support of our community,” Helmick said.

Moreover, Helmick spoke about how Fort Bragg is playing a key role in U.S. military history with helping the end of the war.

"It really hasn't sunk in what we've accomplished, the military has accomplished. We have never ever departed from a war; we've never terminated a war like we did in Iraq," said Helmick.

At the end of the ceremony, both Rice and Helmick left the soldiers and families of Fort Bragg with one final message to take with them over the holiday weekend.

“To all the soldiers and their family members stationed at Fort Bragg and the surrounding communities, I want to wish you a very happy holidays and very successfully and exciting 2012,” Helmick said, followed by words from Rice. “Soldiers and families, we are extremely proud of you, and we thank you for support as well as for your dedication. We wish you all the best in the upcoming year. Airborne! All the way!”

More photos available below

By Army Sgt. Jessica Kuhn
XVIII Airborne Corps Public Affairs
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2011

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