FORT BENNING, Ga. — Fort Benning’s bomb disposal experts returned home early Wednesday morning from a yearlong deployment to Iraq.
Thirty-eight Soldiers from the 789th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company walked off a C-5 into the waiting arms of family and friends gathered at Freedom Hall at Lawson Army Airfield.
COL John King, commander of the Ranger Training Brigade, greeted the Soldiers and spoke at the welcome home ceremony.
“During each of our country’s wars through the years, there’s always been one special group of Soldiers that stands out and makes a difference in the war effort. In World War II it was the fighting Seabees, during Vietnam it was the tunnel rats, during the Iraqi war it is EOD teams,” he said. “You all have made a tremendous difference.”
Last October, the Soldiers joined Taskforce Troy and the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team in Iraq. This was the unit’s second deployment with 3rd HBCT.
The unit, headquartered at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, served dual missions of countering the improvised explosive device threat and training Iraqi bomb disposal companies.
1SG Adam Reyes, the company’s senior NCO, said the unit responded to approximately 300 IED or unexploded ordnance incidents, a great reduction from their deployment in 2007, when there were more than 900.
1SG Reyes said the reduction is a reflection of how hard the Iraqi security forces are working to help the country.
“You look back to where you were when you came on the battlefield, and where we are now with Operation New Dawn — it’s the right time for the Iraqi security forces,” he said. “They understand where they want to go, where they need to go, and the police force with the different areas have really taken ownership.”
During their down time, the first sergeant said his Soldiers focused on “maintaining their edge” by training, learning new skills and working with robotics used for IED detection.
“I think the hardest thing for the Soldiers — and the thing I’m the most proud of — is that they were able to go from long periods of stagnation where they were just training at the unit to then mounting up at any given time and operating in battlefield conditions,” he said.
SPC Andrew Barnes, 20, said he feels he’s come home from his first deployment more mature than when he left.
“My eyes are open there are things I’ve experienced other people my age haven’t,” he said.
For the Kilgore family, the redeployment marked a mother’s return to her two daughters.
While SGT Christina Kilgore was deployed, her husband, SFC Ronnie Kilgore, took care of the couple’s 8-year-old and 2-year-old.
Katelynn and her younger sister, Zayla, are “daddy’s girls,” SFC Kilgore said, but the deployment presented unique challenges for a Soldier-father raising two girls.
“It was the first time I had to take care of them on my own,” he said. “But overall, I learned, I figured it out.”Carrie Reyes, wife of 1SG Reyes and a mother of four, said this marks the third deployment for the family.
They are looking forward to reuniting with their oldest son this weekend at Georgia State University’s parent’s day.
“They are having a football game, and we’ll go tailgating we’re pretty excited about it,” she said.
Having been through deployment and reintegration before, the Army wife said her advice for spouses welcoming their troops home is “just take it day by day, don’t rush anything, don’t push anything. If there’s an issue, talk to them.”
The Soldiers return to work Monday and begin their 30-day block leave in mid-October.