“Mission Complete” read a sign at the gates of Kleber Kaserne that welcomed home more than 140 Soldiers of the 66th Transport Company who returned from Iraq Feb. 18.
It more than summed up the sentiment of both Soldiers and family alike who endured a 13-month deployment, including the news of a 60-day tour extension in the beginning of December when the company had expected to be home by Christmas.
“When we first heard about the extension, of course it was taken badly,” said 1st Sgt. John Pack Jr. “But the Soldiers just dug down deep and pulled out more intestinal fortitude. I’m very proud of our Soldiers. They are the bedrock of our success.”
The medium-truck company, part of the 37th Transportation Command, deployed Jan. 9, 2004, to Tikrit, Iraq, where it supported the 1st Infantry Division. Soldiers hauled supplies throughout Iraq and Kuwait, logging more than 1.5 million miles, said Company Commander Capt. Samuel Pena.
“We definitely accomplished the mission we set out to do. The Soldiers were gallant and did a phenomenal job,” said Captain Pena.
They conducted convoys daily through areas plagued by heavy insurgent violence. Two Soldiers, Sgt. Tatjana Reed and Spc. Torey Dantzler, died from injuries suffered in a July 22 roadside bomb attack. In addition, 12 other Soldiers were injured in various attacks.
“It’s been difficult,” said Captain Pena of the Soldiers’ deaths. “The insurgents were determined to hamper the supply lines, but our Soldiers showed them that the (United States) wasn’t going to back down in providing the needed support to coalition forces. (After attacks) our Soldiers were itching to get back on the road to accomplish their mission.”
Truck driver Spc. Whitney Shaw, 19, was shot during an Aug. 4 attack on a convoy rolling through Mosul. As trucks of the 66th joined other units in the 90-vehicle convoy, they came under intense rifle fire from rooftops and vehicles attempting to block the street.
A bullet shot from an AK-47 hit Specialist Shaw in the right shoulder as she drove a tractor-trailer through the ambush. The body armor she wore partially blocked the bullet, resulting in a minor wound.
“It took a minute to realize I got hit,” said Specialist Shaw. “I kept driving.”
Specialist Shaw returned to duty as soon as possible, she said, because “I didn’t want to leave my battle buddies in my platoon out there without me.” She proudly displays the bullet on a chain around her neck. Bent and deformed from impact, she calls it her good luck charm.
In another corner of the gym, Sandra Wright tightly hugged her son Spc. Marshall Wright, a heavy-wheeled mechanic.
“I think I am the only one whose mother came here (to welcome them back),” said Specialist Wright. “It’s really special.”
Ms. Wright flew in the day before from her Belen, N.M., home with the intent to surprise him, but the news was just too good to keep quiet. Although no longer the surprise she had planned, Ms. Wright was brought to tears and said there was never any doubt she would make the trip to welcome back her only child.
“I just felt I needed to be here. I know he’s been through a lot,” she said.
As Soldiers spent the week becoming more familiar with family, they will gather again today for a formal welcome home ceremony at 10 a.m. at Kleber Gym.