No politics in this post, no international affairs, no damning of George W. Bush or of the Democrats in Congress or any one else, just Joy and Relief.
The First Battalion, 133 Infantry Regiment, 640 men and boys from Eastern Iowa, is at long last home. The unit, an element of the 34th Infantry Division and the Iowa National Guard was mobilized in September, 2005, and arrived in Iraq in April, 2006. They were extended for four months as part of the “surge” troop build up and returned to the US in mid August. While in Iraq the battalion suffered 37 casualties, including two killed in action in the same incident in September, 2006. On Wednesday the whole battalion bussed to Waterloo for a final formation in a minor league baseball field. The battalion commander, to his credit, insisted on this final formation and grand reunion with friends and families rather than having his people straggle home from their last post at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. A dozen or more of the soldiers are from my little town. Two are the sons of neighboring farmers.
I am so proud of these soldiers that I can hardly keep from weeping as I write this. Forty years ago the National Guard was a disgrace. Active duty soldiers regarded them as dilatants and draft dodgers, with some basis for that view. The NG would roll into Active Army posts with truck loads of beer and wooden tent floors and barbeque grills for a two week picnic. The level of discipline and fitness was abysmal. That is not so today. These people are soldiers. More than that, this bunch of farmers, students, factory hands, store clerks and small business people are good soldiers, disciplined, knowledgeable and tested.
When this ill conceived foreign adventure began (there is some politics) some of us said that we could only hope that our soldiers, sailors, air crew and Marines would perform their duty in a professional manner. These soldiers have done precisely that. They are entitled to be acknowledged as ordinary people who joined for a variety of reason but, what ever their background, what ever their motives, who are now professionals in the very best sense of that word.
Welcome home, boys. Hand—salute! Ready—front. Dismissed!