By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
Screams, whistles and cheers are deafening, whether it is 3 a.m. or 1 p.m. Joy and tears are touching whether it’s the dead of morning or bright afternoon.
A long, hard wait is coming to an end for thousands of 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment soldiers and families as the regiment returns to Fort Hood from 15 months in Iraq. The first flights arrived last week and are expected to continue through Sunday.
The homecomings are, without question, the best part about the regiment returning, said Maj. Paul Dirksmeyer, regimental chaplain.
“I don’t care how many of these I’ve done, they’re so deeply moving on a very visceral level,” he said. “To see families embracing, parents hugging their soldier kids, spouses and kids embracing, soldiers seeing newborns for the first time, how can someone not be moved to tears?”
Dirksmeyer considers the homecoming ceremonies cathartic.
“It’s healing,” he said. “It just brings things ‘full circle’ in a deeply personal way. My kids have come home!”
The regiment’s time in Iraq certainly hasn’t gone without losses. More than 20 troopers have died during this rotation, the latest Sgt. 1st Class Miguel A. Wilson, a Bonham native who died Nov. 21 in Abu Sayf of injuries he sustained while trying to rescue another soldier during a dismounted reconnaissance mission, according to information from the Defense Department. He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron.
While the casualty number is significantly less than those from the regiment’s first and second rotations to Iraq, any losses hit the families and soldiers hard.
That has been the hardest part of the job for Lt. Col. Timothy Leroux, the regimental rear detachment commander.
The affect of those losses on their fellow soldiers is not lost on their families, either. Evelyn McLean’s son, Capt. Gregory McLean, is a troop commander and thousands of miles and time zones away from Iraq in Kansas, she said she could sense how difficult it was for Gregory to lose soldiers.
It is without a doubt the most difficult part of a deployment, said Dana Allison, regimental family readiness support assistant and wife of a Support Squadron soldier.
“It’s something everyone prays will never happen and it never gets any easier when it does,” she said.
“I think that’s got to be the most difficult thing about deployments no matter which side of the ocean you’re on.”
Making a difference
In its time in Iraq, the regiment’s area of operations covered the Nineveh and Diyala Provinces, and air support over the city of Baghdad and south of Baghdad, said Col. Michael Bills, regimental commander.
Second or Sabre Squadron was the smallest unit but had the largest area to secure, Bills said. Fourth or Longknife Squadron provided air support over Baghdad, specifically Sadr City and a large area south of Baghdad. The rest of the regiment, 1st or Tiger, 3rd or Thunder and Support or Muleskinner Squadrons were in the Nineveh Province. The province is 223 miles from the Syrian border.
Among the accomplishments, soldiers reduced the violence in all three provinces by teaming with their Iraqi Security Force counterparts, Bills said.
In Nineveh, the number of daily attacks decreased from an average of 40 a day to single digits. More than 1,000 roadside bombs were cleared from roads and 39 combat outposts and 105 checkpoints were established in the city.
More than 3,400 insurgents and 140 hard-core fighters were captured or killed, Bills said.
“This allowed for further growth and freedom of movement throughout a city of 1.7 million that has been absent the last couple of years,” the colonel said. “The courage, valor and incredible effort of the Brave Rifles troopers has allowed an increase in commerce, growth of market places and small businesses, the building of schools so that children are able to attend schools and finally the service improvements.”
The regiment completed more than 850 projects that included everything from agriculture to literacy programs.
“One tremendous accomplishment was the extensive recruiting and training campaign that increased the numbers of Iraqi Security Forces in Nineveh Province from 35,000 to 72,000 in an eight-month period,” Bills said.
For a story about the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s rear detachment, including reflections from its top leaders, read next week’s Fort Hood Herald.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547.