By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 28, 2009 - The new 10th Mountain Division commander told his soldiers preparing to deploy that they'll play a critical role in "one of the most challenging and dynamic deployments" to Iraq as they transfer full operational control of the Iraqi security forces to the Iraqi government. Army Maj. Gen. James L. Terry heralded the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team – "one of the Army's most-experienced, most deployed and most successful brigade combat teams" -- during a rousing Sept. 25 deployment ceremony here outside the division headquarters building.
Hundreds of family members and community leaders gathered around the parade field, filling the seats and bleachers and finding spots on the grass to honor the 2nd BCT "Commandos," who begin deploying next week.
Addressing his soldiers, formed up against the backdrop of giant crossed red swords on a 10th Mountain Division banner, Terry noted the vast improvements in the security situation since the brigade's last deployment in 2006 to what was then known as Iraq's "Triangle of Death."
Fifty-four Commandos died during that 15-month deployment, and hundreds more were wounded as they helped to lay the foundation for progress seen today, Terry said.
"Your combat skill and outreach to the people of Iraq resulted in a dramatic drop in attacks on all coalition forces and the Iraqi population, providing an opportunity for economic growth and governmental authority to take hold," he told his soldiers. "Those tireless efforts are largely responsible for the relative peace and security that abides there today. That is your legacy."
Almost two years after returning from that deployment, the Commandos will build on that legacy as they return to an Iraq that Terry said is changing for the better, and in ways "we could have only hoped for" in 2006.
"You will bear witness to historic times in that country," he said. "This will be a period of transition in Iraq, and it will be one of the most challenging and dynamic deployments since the war began."
As they transfer full operational control of the Iraqi security forces serving a sovereign Iraq, the Commandos will fulfill "what our Army – our nation – has been working toward for six long years," Terry said.
Terry noted the relentless training the Commandos have undergone during the past two years to prepare for their upcoming mission.
"It has been a well-earned two years of rest – but take note of what rest really is," he said. He pointed to the "countless live-fire exercises," the 25-mile foot marches, and training not only at home station, but also at Yuma, Ariz.; Fort Pickett, Va.; Fort A.P. Hill, Va.; and at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., where the Commandos conducted two mission-ready exercise rotations.
Meanwhile, the brigade also provided training support at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and remained on standby for a no-notice deployment in support of homeland defense.
"This brigade combat team could not be better prepared than they are right now," said Army Col. David Miller, the team's commander. "Your soldiers will excel," he assured the families, and he thanked them for their role in the Commandos' readiness.
"The soldiers on the field are just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "Soldiering is truly a family affair."
Terry assured his soldiers the Fort Drum community will ensure their families are cared for while they're gone. "That is my promise to you, so you can deploy as a focused and ready force, knowing we will look after those you leave behind," he said.
Army Pfc. Kevin Cabrera admitted he's approaching his first deployment with a flurry of emotions. "It's very exciting," he said. "I think we're all looking forward to it, and to brining our mission in Iraq to an end."
Not as exciting, he said, will be saying goodbye to his wife, Erika, and 2-year-old daughter, Alanni. "I hate that part," he said. "What I have to keep in mind is that what we're doing is for the good of the Iraqi people. We really hope to make a difference."
Standing at the sidelines during the ceremony, Erica Andersen shared Cabrera's mixed emotions as she prepared for her husband, Army Spc. Ryan Andersen's, first deployment.
"Of course I'm feeling stress, and some worry, but at the same time, I am very, very proud that he is making this commitment for our nation," she said. "I love him for it, very much, and I am very proud of him."
Although calling the family support network at Fort Drum "amazing," Andersen said she plans to spend her husband's deployment with her extended family in Dallas.
Tamika Shugard, wife of Army Sgt. Aaron Shugard, said she plans to stick out her husband's deployment at Fort Drum. "The family readiness group here is really good," she said. "It does a lot for the soldiers, and I want to be a part of that."
In the meantime, Shugard admitted, she's approaching the first deployment in her two-year marriage by making every minute count before her husband leaves. "I like being in the Army and what it represents, so I'm really excited about this, but at the same time, nervous," she said. "So for now, I'm just trying to spend as much time with him as I can."
Pam Gable has said goodbye to her husband, Army Staff Sgt. David Gable, during numerous deployments, but never before to Iraq or Afghanistan.
"I'm a little afraid," she admitted, but she said she has no doubt her husband and his comrades are prepared for what's ahead.
Gable said she plans to keep herself busy while he's deployed working full-time at the post orthopedic clinic and studying for her nursing degree in her spare time. She expects the deployment to be harder for their three children, especially their 15-year-old son, who's particularly close to his father.
"I try to push it all out of my mind, but every day that goes by, we are getting closer and closer, so you have to deal with it," she said. "I figure the first two weeks will be the hardest. After that, we'll be into our routine and everything will be OK."
Although the days leading up to the deployment are passing all too quickly for many of the family members, some brigade soldiers said the deployment can't come soon enough.
"We've been training for this for a very, very long time," said Army Spc. Joshua Kendall. "What we want now is to get this done and over with so we can get back home."
Army Staff Sgt. Nathanial Scoy, who's served two deployments in Iraq and another in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division before joining the 10th Mountain Division, echoed Kendall's sentiment.
"Right now, I'm just looking at getting over there and getting started," he said. "We've trained a couple of weeks out of every month since I got here, and now it's time for all that to come together. We're ready. We're absolutely ready."