BENTON – As U.S. military forces neared the end of their presence in Iraq, international news reports last week focused on the shutting down of operations.
Among the American soldiers participating in ceremonies that ended American involvement and turned over responsibility to the Iraqis were members of A Company, 149th Brigade Support Battalion, the local Army National Guard unit.
“Our people were part of that,” said Staff Sgt. Frank Murphy. “They handed it over and then drove out. They were a part of history.”
Fresh off their participation in a history-making event, the men and women of the unit will make it home before Christmas. They are scheduled to arrive in Benton this afternoon, with a welcome ceremony scheduled at 2 p.m. at the Benton Church of Christ.
Murphy is among the unit’s authorized strength of 147 soldiers who were not part of this deployment. Preparing for the homecoming has made for a busy time for him – a busy time, but a very good time.
The troops have been away from home since June 4, when they reported to Camp Atterbury and then traveled as a unit to Iraq for their second deployment in six years. It was the third mobilization for the unit in the U.S. war on terror in the Middle East triggered by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Benton unit was first sent to Germany in 2002 and made its first deployment to Iraq in 2005.
“It was a short deployment,” Murphy said of the present mission. “We were expecting to be there for a year.”
The six-month duration contrasts with the 22-month-long tour six years ago, a tour which was extended 10 months beyond its scheduled one-year period.
As of last week, the soldiers had been transported to Camp Atterbury, Ind., the mobilization site for National Guard and Army Reserve units. Reports that they would be home by Sunday proved erroneous because of delays in administrative processing in Kuwait and at Camp Atterbury, Murphy said.
Providing security for the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, the center hub of U.S. military operations in Iraq, was the primary responsibility of members of the Benton unit.
Their mission also included supply and distribution, support technology and transportation, plus fuel and water purification, the primary job of Detachment 1, a Hopkinsville unit which is part of A Company.
The U.S. military presence in Iraq began in 2003 with commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The mission was to bring down the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein and help the Iraqi people set up a democratic form of government.
Combat missions ended in 2010. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officiated at a ceremony in Baghdad Thursday to officially end the operation.
As many as 170,000 U.S. troops were stationed in Iraq during operations there. More than 4,000 were killed in action.
The Benton unit suffered no losses in its deployments. The Hopkinsville detachment, before it was attached to the Benton unit, had one soldier killed in action, in March 2006.