There was a special homecoming ceremony Oct. 27 at Fort Belvoir. It wasn't held on the parade field with large crowds cheering; instead, it was held at Barden Education Center on post.
That was a fitting setting for this small group of elite soldiers. In their case, knowledge is the most vital weapon in their arsenal.
They are the soldiers of the 737th Ordnance Company (EOD), Explosive Ordinance Disposal. In other words, the bomb squad.
Only a dozen strong, they had just spent six months in Iraq where they performed a variety of missions including disposal of unexploded ordnance, disposal of weapons caches, disposal of improvised explosive devices (IED), and inspection of vehicles for explosives. Any of these tasks, accompanied by one minor slip, could lead to death.
"Here we have 12 soldiers that went over and did an incredible job. These soldiers now have seven Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts," Col. Thomas W. Williams, Garrison Commander, Fort Belvoir, said in welcoming them back.
"Six months ago these soldiers left here. In that time they have performed 480 missions. IED's have killed more soldiers than anything else in either Iraq or Afghanistan," William said.
"We are thankful no one died in your ranks. And. we are also thankful for the families of the soldiers of the 737th," he said. "The last six months have been among the most trying of their lives."
SIX MONTHS AGO, the unit was assigned to provide general support to the 1st Armored Division in Iraq. Later, they were assigned to the 30th Heavy Separate Brigade, North Carolina National Guard, part of the 1st Infantry Division. Of those 480 mission, more than 100 included disarming IEDs.
One of those who received the Purple Heart was Sgt. Jeffrey S. Waldbillig. "We had gone out to the site to take care of the devices. We were heading back to base when we came under fire," he said.
"I was traveling in the middle of the convoy. I was driving and ended up getting a piece of shrapnel in my hand. It happened in the blink of an eye. But, our training really did kick in," Waldbillig said.
Waldbillig has been in this special unit for six years. Prior to that he was in the infantry for four years. "We have bomb squad type training, but we have to be knowledgeable with all type of ordnance from all over the world."
Faces of family members looked relieved as they assembled in the Education Center. "I'm ecstatic that their back," Julie Williams, wife of Staff Sgt. Darrell G. Williams, said. He was holding their 5-month--old son for the first time. "I'm excited and he's very friendly," Williams said of his son Collin on their initial encounter.
Julie Williams' assessment was buttressed by Olga Nieves, wife of Staff Sgt. Orlando Nieves, Jr. "I'm really relieved and excited. We are going to Six Flags in New Jersey this weekend," she said. The Nieves have two children, ages four and one.
In relating some of the unit's experiences, Sergeant First Class William R. Barrell said, "The insurgents are coming from all over the Islamic world to fight us. But there is a big difference as to what is actually happening on the ground and what's being reported. We're actually making a lot of progress."
ORIGINALLY ACTIVATED in March 1944, the unit was reorganized in 1954. They came to Fort Belvoir in 1960 and were redesignated the 737th when they were assigned to serve in Kosovo. They returned from Iraq to their home base Oct. 23.
The unit's mission at Fort Belvoir is to provide explosive ordnance disposal support to military installations, operations and exercises, as well as to civilian and federal authorities, in Virginia and the District of Columbia, on a 24/7 basis. They also support the U.S. Secret Service, Department of State, and Department of Defense in providing security for presidential, vice presidential and foreign dignitaries, according to the Belvoir Public Affairs Office.
"All around us on this post are testaments to the war that's going on. These are our heroes, right here. The reason is nobody told them to sign up. These soldiers are all volunteers in the best Army in the world. And, that is why we can not lose this war of terrorism," Williams said.
"It's a great honor for me to put these medals on these men. Because, I owe these soldiers." William said. "We must be successful in the mission of these soldiers."
Those who received the Bronze Star were Capt. Edward Dennis, commanding officer of the unit, SFC Trevor A. Peterson, Sgt. Joseph E. Brunette, SFC William R. Barrell, SSG John T. Orleans, SSG Darrell G. Williams, and Sgt. Jeffrey S. Waldbillig. SSG Edward K. Adams was the other recipient of the Purple Heart along with Waldbillig.
SSG Paul O. Brahmer, Sgt Orlando Nieves, Jr., and SPC Terry V. Clinton received the Army Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service during combat operations. Awards for Adams and SSG Micah D. Long are pending.
In acknowledging the praise and awards bestowed upon the unit, Capt. Dennis said, "Everybody in this unit stepped up to the task. We performed the high risk searches and everyone in the unit endured the hardships. We are glad to be home."