First Soldiers from 56th Stryker Brigade on U.S. Soil; Rest of Brigade to Follow

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After a year-long deployment, which included several months of service in Iraq, members of the 56th Stryker Brigade are coming home. The first 300 soldiers flew in to Fort Dix, New Jersey just after 5 a.m.

Making it to Iraq was an accomplishment for the 56th. They are one of only seven Stryker Brigades in the entire armed forces and the only one powered by a state national guard. But now the mission is ending for them and the 4,100 citizen soldiers are coming home.

It has been a long and eventful deployment for members of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 56th Stryker Brigade. But after a year away from their families, the soldiers are returning.

"We've been preparing for years to do this mission we've been given," said Captain Christopher Ream of Battery B, 1st/108th during their deployment ceremony in September.

"I'm ready to serve my country but also I've got to leave my family behind," said Sargent First Class Oscar Laughman of Battery B, 1st/108th back in September.

These were the thoughts of the members of Battery B of the 1st/108th in Gettysburg last September. Hugs and kisses around, as the members took up their arms and left for training and then Iraq.

"They want to serve their country and I'm really proud of them. I'm really proud of my son," said family member Pat Sell.

That pride will be replaced by anticipation as the soldiers start coming home over the next month. The brigade spent more than seven months patrolling a territory northwest of Baghdad, helping with security and increasing electrical capabilities in the area. The brigade had trained since 2004 for the mission and officers say, they were ready to go.

"I think they have trained really hard and when you've trained really hard for something, there comes a point when you just want to go do it," said Captain Cory Angell from Fort Indiantown Gap.

Now the mission is ending and it's time to come home. But the brigade will be coming home with a heavy heart after the loss of two of its soldiers.

Thirty two-year-old Staff Sargent Mark Baum from Quakertown was killed in February by small-arms fire.

In May, 20-year-old Specialist Chad Edmundson of Williamsburg was killed after being hit by an improvised explosive device.

The members will be flying in to Fort Dix, New Jersey. There, they will debrief for several days before coming home. Of course, it's not easy to bring back over 4,000 people, but the last of the soldiers are expected to be home by late September.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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