Pa. Guard unit returns from Iraq

August 26, 2009 3:32:14 AM PDT
The first wave of a total of 4,000 Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers returned to the states early Tuesday, marking the beginning of the end of the largest combat deployment of Pennsylvania guardsmen since World War II. More than 300 members of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team arrived at Fort Dix, greeting family members with hugs and kisses.

Sgt. Giancarlo Deguia, 24, of Brownsville, met his five-month-old son, Lucas, for the first time.

"It's one of the greatest days in my life," he said. "I've been looking forward to this since I left."

Deguia was greeted by his four-year-old daughter, Chloe, and his tearful wife, Brandi.

The 56th is the only one of the Army's seven Stryker units in a Guard division. It is based in Philadelphia but includes soldiers from across the state. The soldiers returning Tuesday are from units in Huntingdon, Altoona, Everett and Hamburg and more soldiers from the same battalion were expected to arrive within 24 hours.

In Iraq, the combat team was responsible for a mostly rural, 900-square-mile region based in Taji. The soldiers' jobs varied from working to improve electrical power in the area to assisting Iraqi soldiers in military operations. The brigade has completed more than $22 million in projects to help rebuild communities north of Baghdad, according to military officials.

Two members of the brigade died in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Mark C. Baum, of Quakertown, was killed Feb. 21 by small arms fire and Spec. Chad A. Edmondsun, of Williamsburg, was killed by an improvised explosive device on May 27.

Capt. Cory Angell, 36, of Fredricksburg, said the trip home was exhausting.

"The first thing we notice is everything is green," Angell said. "The trees, the grass, everything."

Angell says the soldiers will remain at Fort Dix for a week of demobilization before being released from active duty and returning to their home bases.


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