The Iraq war’s cleanup crew came home to Fort Carson on Thursday, leaving behind former American bases that soldiers described as “ghost towns.”
The 110-soldier 549th Quartermaster Company had been in Iraq since April and took on ever-increasing responsibilities as Army contractors pulled out.
It wasn’t glamorous work.
The soldiers cooked countless meals, did 101,000 loads of laundry for the dwindling number of American troops left in Iraq, and packed up 1,200 shipping containers of Army gear to send home.
“The good food went away,” the unit’s commander, Capt. Ron Hall said, noting that soldiers wound up eating at least one “Meal, Ready to Eat” per day, and the famed “surf and turf” spreads cooked by contractors are a thing of the past.
The last American forces are leaving by Dec. 31, ending more than eight years of U.S. troops in Iraq. Over those years, bases for U.S. forces were built up to the point where they resembled American towns, complete with fast-food joints and miniature versions of shopping malls. That’s all gone now, said 1st Sgt. Shawn Simmons.
“It is weird seeing something so built up come down piece by piece,” he said.
The tour’s end couldn’t come soon enough for Sgt. Santiago Pita, who spent the time raising 1-year-old Santiago Jr. and his 2-year-old sister, Alma. Pita’s wife, Cpl. Lydia Pita, was in Iraq with the 549th.
“They’re sleepy but excited,” he said of the children as they waited in a Fort Carson gymnasium before dawn for their mother to arrive.
After the couple reunited, a crying Lydia Pita grasped the kids and her husband.
“It’s overwhelming and so exciting,” she said.
Pita said she was looking forward to a low-key Veterans Day on Friday.
“We’ll have a family picnic,” she said.
All the soldiers in the unit could use some rest.
Lt. Col. Alanna Cook, who commands a battalion that includes the 549th, said the 110 soldiers spent the last eight months working at nearly every major American base in Iraq to help wind down the long war.
“I’m very proud of what they have done,” she said.
They may be the last company-sized contingent of Fort Carson troops to arrive home from Iraq, but the sentiments haven’t changed since the first soldiers returned from Iraq in early 2004.
“It just feels good to be home,” said Spc. Joshua Hankin.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0194