101st Airborne Division Starts to Head Home
American Forces Press Service
CAMP DOHA, Kuwait, Jan. 16, 2004 The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which landed in Kuwait in February 2003 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, is beginning its 10,500-mile, three-month odyssey back home to Fort Campbell, Ky., with a massive transfer of troops and equipment by air and land.
Brig. Gen. Jeffery Schloesser, 101st Airborne Division assistant division commander for support, has overseen the division's redeployment operations in Kuwait, which serves as the primary staging area for all equipment and personnel returning to the United States. The division's first redeployment convoys arrived shortly after the beginning of the new year, and the soldiers are washing their equipment, vehicles and some of the division's 200-plus aircraft that will be shrink-wrapped and sent back to Fort Campbell.
"This is the largest operational move of soldiers, Marines and coalition forces that anyone really remembers, and that goes all the way back to Normandy in World War II," said Schloesser, who arrived in Kuwait from Iraq in late December.
Roughly 20,000 soldiers with or attached to the 101st Airborne Division are scheduled to be sent home by early March. About 4,000 "Screaming Eagles" who aren't essential to the redeployment of equipment through Kuwait will fly directly back to the United States from Iraq, with a stop in Incirlik, Turkey.
The next homes for most of the division, albeit briefly, will be Camps Doha, Udairi and Arifjan in Kuwait.
About 6,000 vehicles and 1,600 containers will pass through the bases from the division. There, the battle-tested soldiers are readying their vehicles and equipment for U.S. Customs inspections.
"If anybody could be prepared, we are prepared," Schloesser said. "The Kuwaitis on post have bent over backwards for this. They have allowed us to reopen camps that were only open for the first part of the war in March and April.
"They have allowed us to take a good amount of the commercial shipping port facilities that they have and dedicated them for our military," Schloesser said, "and the same thing goes for their airports."
Soldiers approaching the "finish line" will find one last steep mountain to climb: No vehicle can board the ship destined for Fort Campbell via Jacksonville, Fla., without having been thoroughly washed, a process that can take six hours per vehicle.
"I've spent a lot of time on wash racks, on aircraft parking positions as well as on the base camps, and there is not a Screaming Eagle down here who is not motivated," Schloesser said. "It's natural as you come down and start washing things and cleaning up that actually you would start to lose a little bit of motivation. I have not yet seen that."
The unit's helicopters must undergo a special "shrink wrap" process to protect their sensitive equipment from the ocean environment. The aircraft that are going to go home through the port on the ships can be exposed to salt water. The division's aviation units "shrink wrap" each aircraft in special plastic and remove the air, giving the helicopters a protective cocoon-like covering.
Aircraft severely damaged in combat are considered a biohazard and will be properly disposed of in theater instead of going back to Fort Campbell, Schloesser said.
(Based on a news release from Combined Joint Task Force 7 public affairs.)