About 155 soldiers from the Little Falls-based 851st Vertical Engineer Company arrived at Fort McCoy, Wis., Monday after a one-year deployment, including 9-1/2 months in Iraq. The soldiers are expected to make the trip home to Camp Ripley and be reunited with their families possibly on Saturday.
Capt. Brian Winter said by phone Monday from Fort McCoy that his company left Iraq on the Fourth of July. His company had been involved in construction and electrical projects in Baghdad, sharing living accommodations with infantry units stationed on the "front lines" in Iraq. The soldiers would do their work at night so the infantry soldiers could sleep during the day.
"It feels pretty fantastic," Winter said of being home.
Winter said about 50 percent of his soldiers are from Little Falls and the surrounding areas. For about one-third of the company, this was their second deployment to Iraq.
Four of the major combat outposts that were staging areas for operations in Sadr City were built from the ground up or substantially improved by this company. Because of their efforts, the troops that were involved in the operation of building the "Sadr City Wall" now have a secure area where they can sleep, get a shower and eat a meal.
Winter said the unit before them built 50,000 square feet of structures in 12 months and in the 9-1/2 months that the 851st soldiers were stationed in Iraq, they built 250,000 square feet of living and work areas for soldiers, also laying 72 miles of electrical cable.
Winter said his company likely will arrive back in Little Falls on Saturday, depending how quickly they can get things like medical checks completed in Fort McCoy. The company was to ride through downtown Little Falls on its way to Camp Ripley. The exact time and date will be released by the National Guard when it becomes available.
Winter said the company experienced some close calls and one soldier suffered a mortar round to his knee, but they were fortunate that everyone made it home from Iraq.
"We were very lucky considering the places we were at," said Winter.
Winter said he and his soldiers received a lot of support, both locally and statewide while stationed in Iraq.
"The amount of support has been fantastic and very appreciated," he said. "Everybody's really excited to get home and see their families."
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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