Thursday, November 15, 2007

'Grey Wolf' Soldiers prepare to head home

BY Spc. Ryan Stroud; 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs

BAQOUBA, Iraq (Nov. 5, 2007) -- It was a mild fall season in October 2006 when the Soldiers of the 3rd "Grey Wolf" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, packed their gear, kissed their families goodbye and headed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08.

Thirteen months later and counting, these brave Soldiers are once again packing their gear and getting ready to deploy once more, this time back to their families in the United States.

Now in the phase of packing their shipment containers, two Soldiers from 1-12 Combined Arms Battalion, are taking the time to reflect on their experiences in Iraq and what they have to look forward to back home.

"We were a major part in the effort out here to provide a safer and securer life to the people of Diyala," said Cpl. Norton Ronald, Company D, 1-12 CAB, and a native of Buffalo, N.Y.

"We were a part of Arrowhead Ripper, Dover Clearance, which was a big part of keeping [an important route] from improvised explosive devices. We cleared Buhriz of all al-Quida and set up an outpost keeping the whole area clear and helping take care of the people out there," he said.

"Things have changed out here and that's great," Ronald said.

According to a CNN broadcast in February, Baqouba was dubbed the most dangerous city in Iraq. Now, many months and countless hours of effort later, CNN has commented that Diyala has made a drastic change and is now on its way to one of the safest provinces in Iraq.

"It feels great!" said an elated Spc. Adamm Creel, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, attached to Co. D, and a native of Portland, Ore..

"Before, when you would go into the cities, you'd get shot at," he said. "Now when we go back, people are happy to see us, kids are out playing, and it's becoming trash free. The people are starting to take care of their city. The cities are looking really nice."

"It feels good knowing that when we first got here, the streets were bare, no people ever came out, and now you can go down the streets and see all the kids out playing soccer and all the people going to the market," added Ronald. "It's 'normal' living here now."

And these two Soldiers know what they're talking about. They saw the mean streets of Baqouba back in the early part of their deployment, and they were there for all the changes.

"I went on missions all the time," said Creel. "I've done a little bit of everything out here - gunned, dismount, drove. I even helped load tanks. I've seen everything you could imagine seeing."

"I helped take the commander, the [executive officer] and first sergeants out to all their meetings at the outpost," added Ronald. "We also supplied rations, food, water and all other supplies they needed to the surrounding areas. Going back and forth, seeing the changes, it's really amazing and we were a part of that."

Now these Soldiers have completed their mission, they now look forward to going home and spending some well-deserved family time with those who know them best.

"I definitely plan on spending lots of time with my family," laughed Ronald. "I have two kids, a daughter that's six and a son that's three; and I haven't been a part of their lives in the past year, so it's time for some quality family time."

"Once I get home, I'm picking up my new car - a '97 Mustang," Creel said. "Then I plan to fly back home and see my family. Hopefully I will get to see my brother who's in Afghanistan right now. He's supposed to be getting home around the same time frame as me, so hopefully we'll get to see each other."

Though many things have changed out here in Iraq for these Soldiers and they're ready to head home, they say there are a few things they will miss about being out here.

"One thing I will miss is being close with all the Soldiers out here," said Ronald. "With the living conditions, you're always around and get to know people really well, making good friends. I know the friendships will pull apart a little bit once we're at home with not living together. But that's okay because we will have our families again."

"One thing I will miss out here is the lack of 'home' stress," added Creel. "There's not many things to worry about out here that you would worry about back at home. You just have to focus on your team and yourself, getting the mission accomplished. You know, it's nice knowing you don't have to worry about your car breaking down over here."

All jokes aside, both Soldiers said they are satisfied with their deployment to Iraq and very happy it's almost over.

"I feel our time out here was alright," Creel said. "You know, you don't want to be away from family and friends, but we accomplished our mission out here and that alone feels good. Not all was bad out here, I did meet and get to hang out with some good people and work with many different groups of people. But I'm happy to be going home. I'm looking forward to being done."

"A lot of good things happened in the year plus we were out here," added Ronald. "It's really nice to see a difference was made."