December 19, 2011
By Staff Sgt. Bryanna Poulin, III Corps
FORT HOOD, Texas — Exactly eight months to the day they cased their colors, Soldiers with the 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, assembled again on Cooper Field here Dec. 15 and uncased their colors, marking one of the last units to leave Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn and allowing Soldiers to be home just in time for the holidays.
“I’m so glad to be back in time to spend Christmas with my family and enjoy the holiday season instead of being deployed,” said Spc. Mary Rivera Company F, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. Div.
Being home for the holidays came as a surprise to the Black Jack Soldiers.
“We didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago that we would be back before the Christmas holiday, and we’re very fortunate everything worked out,” said Col. John Peeler, brigade commander, whose brigade operated primarily in the Northern Iraqi Joint Operations area. “I think it’s just a blessing and I couldn’t have asked for a better gift for my Soldiers than for them to spend the holidays with their families.”
While being home is exciting to Soldiers, seeing the transition Iraq has made over the last few years left a lasting impression.
“It’s very historical and fulfilling to represent all the troops who have served over there, especially for Black Jacks,” Peeler said, “because we were there in the beginning of the operation all the way through the end.”
Many Black Jack Soldiers agreed that being one of the last units to leave their footprint in Iraq made their numerous deployment rotations, loss of comrades and countless holidays away from loved ones worth it.
“I deployed in the start of the Iraqi campaign and concluded with this one,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Lerchenfelt Jr., an infantryman. “Seeing the transition and Iraq taking their own country back makes it all worth it for me. I saw the good we did over there.”
Peeler said being one of the last units is really a “fantastic way to cap the entire campaign, and be able to hand security over to the Iraqi Security Forces and have the government of Iraq take over all the bases.”
Yet if it wasn’t for U.S Soldiers, Iraq wouldn’t be where it is today, he said.
“The Soldiers we saw today made that opportunity for Iraq and the people of Iraq, and it’s been fulfilling to see that in the terms of progress,” Peeler said.
Although Iraq can still be dangerous, Peeler said it’s safer and more stable than ever before.
“I like to say Iraq is still not Disney World, but it is safer and more stable because of the fantastic Soldiers that have served through the entire campaign, from 2003 until today,” Peeler said. “I’m absolutely confident that we set the conditions and it’s up to them (Iraqis) to take the opportunity that has been made available to them for a safer, more stable country.”
Soldiers from other 1st Cavalry Division units continue to return to Fort Hood, including the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division troops who were part of final convoy that crossed the border from Iraq to Kuwait Dec. 18. They, too, are expected to return to Fort Hood before Christmas.