Updated: August 24, 2011 at 12:00 am
In a sign that the war in Iraq is coming to close, a Fort Carson bomb-disposal unit came home Wednesday and isn’t being replaced overseas.
The 25 soldiers from the 242nd Explosive Ordnance Battalion spent a year tackling bomb threats and training Iraqis on how to deal with explosives when the American troops are scheduled to leave on Jan. 1.
For the battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Dean Meinert, coming home from Iraq for the last time felt surreal. It’s something soldiers didn’t allow themselves to think about during more than eight years of war there.
“I’ve never felt this way before,” he said.
SEE A SLIDESHOW OF THE HOMECOMING HERE
The battalion had a busy year dealing with insurgent bombs throughout northern Iraq.
Fort Carson’s commander, Brig. Gen. James Doty praised the soldiers for doing a dangerous job in an 88,000-square-mile region.
“American heroes have returned to the Mountain Post,” Doty told a crowd that gathered to welcome the small unit home.
During the deployment, the 242nd oversaw 1,500 missions, including 350 to defuse or safely detonate reported bombs. The unit also analyzed blasts to help Iraqi authorities determine who built the bombs and destroyed 40,000 pounds of seized explosive materials.
Soldiers assigned the 242nd earned six Bronze Star Medals during the year at war.
They also saw that life in Iraq is changing.
“The mission was very different from the ones we had prior to this,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Ted Taala, the battalion’s top enlisted soldier, and a veteran of two earlier tours to Iraq.
Earlier, he said, Americans took the lead in dealing with bombs while their Iraqi counterparts tagged along. Now Iraqis are handling the bombs while the Americans stand ready to help if needed.
“They were running the vast majority of incidents and they weren’t dying in the process,” Taala said, noting that Iraqis have become adept at what’s considered one of the world’s most dangerous jobs.
For Taala’s wife, Sabrina, it’s too early think about having her frequently-deployed husband home for a long stretch.
“Not yet,” she said. “Ask me next week.”
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