As Iraq War Draws Down, Units Return To Ft. Bragg

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A group of about 150 young men and women from the 25th Unit Brigade and the 82nd Airborne Division returned to Ft. Bragg in North Carolina this week. Families are eagerly awaiting the return of their loved ones as the wave of homecomings continue until the end of this month. The brigade is one of the last groups of soldiers to complete deployments in Iraq.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Lynn Neary.


And I'm Melissa Block.

For nearly nine years now, soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina have put in their time in Iraq. The base has sent tens of thousands of troops in multiple deployments since the war began in 2003. President Obama visited Fort Bragg today to give his thanks.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The incredible men and women of Fort Bragg have been there every step of the way, serving with honor, sacrificing greatly from the first waves of the invasion to some of the last troops to come home.

BLOCK: Now that those men and women are coming home, as the U.S. ends its military presence in Iraq, Fort Bragg has a festive air. North Carolina Public Radio's Jessica Jones joined family members as they anxiously awaited the return of loved ones.

JESSICA JONES, BYLINE: It was still dark and cold early Tuesday morning, but Irene and Sheryl Summerhill(ph) were up and excited. Several hours before sunrise, they were busy taping about two dozen brightly-colored posters and banners to the walls of a huge airplane hangar where families were just beginning to gather.

IRENE SUMMERHILL: We'll do welcome home, daddy, we love you, on this wall. And then we'll do the other three signs around this wall.

SHERYL SUMMERHILL: Is that high enough? I know your arms don't stretch anymore.


JONES: Irene is married to Sheryl's son, Captain Randy Summerhill, who's finishing his third deployment. He's scheduled to return any minute now, along with about 150 other soldiers who've been gone a year. Irene says she's thrilled her husband will never have to brave Iraq again. But the wait has been hard.

I. SUMMERHILL: Even though they're drawing down in Iraq, it's still a year. A year is a year. And, you know, are we thankful and blessed that, God willing, they won't ever have to go back to Iraq? Yes. Yes. But the time is still long.


JONES: As an Army brass band begins to play, more families seat themselves in long wooden pews set up for the welcoming ceremony. They carry bunches of balloons, more signs and travel mugs full of coffee. Pretty soon, a passenger plane roars to a stop right outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, let's hear from the men and women of 25th Unit Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division.


JONES: Dressed in camouflage, the soldiers marched into a cordoned-off area in perfect formation. And once officers give the command to remove the barriers, there's chaos. Captain Randy Summerhill and his wife, Irene, stand in the middle of the crowd, locked in a long kiss. Soon, he'll be home and reunited with their two little girls. But his mom says, the 6-year-old is not going to allow her dad to get some sleep, at least not this morning.

S. SUMMERHILL: She said so daddy is going to be my gift in the morning? Yes.


I. SUMMERHILL: We have two little girls that aren't going to let that happen.

JONES: Randy Summerhill says, after being so far away from his family, the prospect of doing housework, watching the kids and paying bills actually sounds appealing.

CAPTAIN RANDY SUMMERHILL: Now that I'm back, I can start helping out with that and take a load off of Irene so she can actually have a little bit of mommy time because I know she hasn't had it while I've been gone.

JONES: Randy Summerhill says he loves being a soldier, but he won't miss being in Iraq at all, neither will returning Lieutenant Colonel David Doyle. He credits his soldiers for doing the very best they could for the Iraqi people, but he knows it was hard on loved ones back home.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL DAVID DOYLE: It did come at a cost for families. And certainly when you have wounded warriors and you have folks that don't make it back from Iraq, there's an enormous cost, and it's a lasting one.

JONES: Lieutenant Colonel Doyle says he's looking forward to getting back to a normal life again. Fort Bragg officials say the wave of homecomings will continue until the end of this month.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

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