Nearly two dozen soldiers who performed one of the deadliest missions in the Iraq war returned to the open arms of their families last Wednesday during a ceremony at Fort Belvoir. Theirs is a mission that requires not only nerves of steel but also a corresponding wealth of knowledge.
All members of the 737th Ordinance Company, Explosive Ordinance Disposal, they returned to American soil after serving in Iraq since last April and completing 600 missions of their specialty — disarming roadside bombs and other explosive threats. Their territory included Baghdad and its international airport.
This was their second tour of duty in that war. They previously served in Iraq from April to October in 2004. They had also been deployed to Kosovo from May to November in 2002.
"This unit saved a lot of lives," said Captain Brett A. Carey, company commander, 737th. Its members were responsible for the disposal of 250 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), according to Carey.
However, not every member made it home for the welcoming ceremony. Sgt. 1st Class Scott R. Smith, 34, of Punxsutawney, PA, was killed July 17, in Al Iskandariyah when an IED detonated during a clearing mission.
"What we do as an installation is provide the focus to care for the families which enables the soldiers to do their jobs," said Col. Brian Lauritzen, installation commander, Fort Belvoir, during the welcome home ceremony. He thanked both the returning soldiers and their families for their combined service to the United States.
The overall sentiments of those returning was best summed up by Sgt.1st Class John Orleans and Sgt. Orlando Nieves. "I've missed a lot of firsts," said Orleans, reunited with his wife Anne and children, son Ashton, 6, and daughter Megan, 2.
"It feels good. I'm just happy to be home," said Nieves, who was joined by his wife Olga.
That sentiment was echoed by the family members who waited for the bus from Andrews Air Force Base to arrive at Belvoir. When it did there were a lot of cheers, applause and hugs, intermixed with some tears.