Some 2,500 Guardsmen Home by Christmas

Posting an article from the Florida National Guard which is celebrating tonight as the first wave of soldiers returns to the U.S. from its largest deployment since WWII. More than 2,500 soldiers are scheduled to come home before Christmas. The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) is based in Pinellas Park, FL.

A Soldier from the Florida Army National Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team gets a hug from a family member after a welcome home ceremony at Fort Stewart, Ga., Nov. 28, 2010. More than 150 Soldiers from the 53rd returned home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia. Photo by Debra Cox

By Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Florida National Guard Public Affairs

FORT STEWART, Ga. (Nov. 28, 2010) – The first group of Soldiers from the
Florida National Guard’s largest overseas deployment arrived in the U.S. this
morning, marking the beginning of the end for a nearly year-long mission in
Southwest Asia.

As temperatures dipped into the 30s more than 150 Soldiers from the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) landed by plane at Hunter Army Airfield
near Savannah, Ga., and were taken to nearby Fort Stewart for a “welcome home
ceremony.” The Soldiers were the first group to return home from the 53rd
Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s mission supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom
and New Dawn.

A young family member awaits the arrival of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team at Fort Stewart, Ga., Nov. 28, 2010. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

This first group was composed of Inactive Ready Reserve Soldiers, Guardsmen heading to various military schools and members of the 53rd IBCT serving as an “advance party” for the remainder of the nearly 2,500 Soldiers still in
Kuwait. The rest of the 53rd are scheduled to return in groups beginning in
early December, and all members of the 53rd are expected in the U.S. before
Christmas. After a brief demobilization period at Fort Stewart, the groups of
Soldiers will be released home to Florida.

“It’s great to be home,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Miner with 2nd Battalion, 124th
Infantry Regiment, shortly after he stepped off the airplane into the frosty
Georgia morning air. “I think the Brigade did a tremendous job, and we had a
lot of support from the citizens of Florida.”

More than 150 Soldiers from the 53rd returned home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia. Photo by Debra Cox

Miner, who is also a commissioner from St. Johns County in Northeast Florida,
noted that the return also marked his one-year wedding anniversary and he was
looking forward to seeing his wife Cheryl later in the morning. A few hours
later the couple was reunited on the parade field at Fort Stewart.

“It’s lucky that he’s getting back today,” Cheryl Miner said, noting their
anniversary. “(The deployment) actually went by pretty fast.”

Deployed since January 2010, more than 150 soldiers are the first from the 53rd to return home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia. Photo by Debra Cox

Staff Sgt. Joseph Rappel, a resident of Titusville, Fla., who also served
with the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, said it felt “wonderful” to
be back in the U.S. before Christmas.

“I look forward to seeing my wife and kids, and I know they’re looking
forward to seeing me,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Mark Miner from the Florida Army National Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team greets his wife Cheryl after a welcome home ceremony. Photo by Debra Cox

The 53rd IBCT – which is headquartered in Pinellas Park, Fla. – is made up of
Soldiers from around Florida, and includes large contingents based in Miami,
Orlando, Panama City and Lakeland. The Soldiers left Florida in January 2010,
and conducted pre-mobilization training at Fort Hood, Texas, before departing
for Southwest Asia in early March 2010. One of the most high-profile missions
the unit performed during the deployment was escorting convoys of U.S. forces
leaving Iraq as part of the scheduled drawdown of troops and equipment in the
country.

The mobilization and deployment of the 53rd was historic in that it was the
largest single-unit mobilization for the Florida National Guard since World
War II.

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