Parade, Festivities Mark 1st AD's Return to Germany From Iraq
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WIESBADEN ARMY AIRFIELD, Germany, Oct. 7, 2004 A formal military parade and a huge festival featuring food and entertainment here today officially welcomed home the soldiers of the Army's 1st Armored Division and other units that served in its Iraq task force.
The division originally was scheduled for a one-year deployment in Iraq. But when some of the division's soldiers were aboard the airplanes that would take them home in April, they received word they would remain an extra three months. The division's expertise and experience in Iraq would be needed to quell problems that had arisen, particularly in Najaf and Karbala, Defense Department officials explained.
Soldiers at Wiesbaden Army Airfield, Germany, present the
colors at an Oct. 7 parade celebrating the 1st Armored Division's return from
Iraq. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Earlier in the day, the division dedicated a memorial in front of its headquarters for the 130 members of the task force who were killed in action.
At the parade, six soldiers three officers and three enlisted soldiers -- received the Silver Star Medal for their actions in combat, joining three other task force members who had previously received that award for their Iraq service.
Also, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz presented three Valorous Unit Awards, three Presidential Unit Citations and five Meritorious Unit Commendations to Task Force 1st Armored Division organizations.
Wolfowitz praised the soldiers for their dedication and their achievements.
"President Bush said that the enemies of freedom would hear from America, and they did they heard from you," he said. "You formed the largest combat formation in Iraq. Since World War II, no other group of American soldiers has served in combat for a longer continuous time. That alone would be enough to earn our thanks, but you did more.
"You fought bravely in battle," he continued. "Then you showed kindness and encouragement to the people of Iraq. Then, even though your tour was supposed to end, your courage and skills were still needed. So you turned right around and you remained on the point of the spear. You set the conditions for an important victory."
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his outlaw militia are no longer in the holy city of Najaf, Wolfowitz explained, and thanks to the work the division started, the city now is under Iraqi control.
"Over and over again, the men of the 1st Armored Division showed everyone exactly what right looks like," he said. "Our enemies will never forget and our friends will always remember what America's 'Iron Soldiers' did in Iraq. Our country, our president, our citizens and the people of a new, free Iraq thank you. We're grateful, and we're proud."
But while the soldiers were receiving thanks and appreciation today, Wolfowitz said, an equally important group made their accomplishments possible: the soldiers' families.
"When orders changed at the last minute, you were rock-solid," he said. "When the deployment was even longer and tougher than expected, you stuck it out. When our soldiers needed to hear a 'We love you' or get a care package from home, you were there. We can't thank you enough. We count our blessings for our magnificent soldiers, and we count our blessings for the magnificent support the families give them."
Wolfowitz also recognized the task force soldiers wounded in Iraq. About a dozen of the most seriously wounded were able to attend the welcome ceremony.
"You've given so much to the cause of freedom," he said. "No words are adequate to express our gratitude. You should know that everyone who's been able to visit you and your comrades in the hospital comes away inspired by your amazing fighting spirit. As you recover, we will stay with you, and we wish you Godspeed.
Throughout his remarks, Wolfowitz encouraged the thousands of soldiers in parade formation to give themselves a "Hooah," the Army's all-encompassing positive interjection. The wounded soldiers got the loudest "Hooah" of all, and the applause they received from the spectators lasted more than 40 seconds.
The deputy defense secretary praised the soldiers' leaders for their effectiveness and for the concern they exhibited for the soldiers and their families.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of the Army's 5th Corps, served until recently as commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7, now called Multinational Force Iraq. He is a former 1st Armored Division commander. Wolfowitz expressed his personal gratitude to Sanchez, and passed along the thanks of President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "I've learned to admire General Sanchez's courage, his perseverance and his concern for his troops," he said.
Addressing the division's commander, Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Wolfowitz said one unit soldier had described the general as "a powerful leader."
"I can't say it any better," he said. "On behalf of the president and the secretary of defense, let me thank you for that powerful leadership of this powerful force." He added that Dempsey's concern for his soldiers helped them perform impressively in combat, kept morale high even after the deployment was extended, and brought so many of the soldiers home safely.
In closing his remarks, Wolfowitz read the soldiers a letter he had brought with him from President Bush:
"America is safer because of the brave men and women who serve and sacrifice to defend our liberty. Each of you has answered a great call and demonstrated personal courage, love of country and dedication to duty.
"Our nation is also grateful for the military families who serve our country. We ask for God's special blessing on the families who have lost a loved one.
"Our country is proud of your service, and I am proud to be your commander in chief. Laura and I join our fellow Americans in welcoming home the 1st Armored Division from your deployment to Iraq."
After the formal parade, a homecoming celebration began in a huge tent nearby. Featuring a wide variety of food and entertainment including a concert by the country band "Sawyer Brown" the event was scheduled to last well into the evening, culminating with a fireworks display.