First wave of 82nd Airborne back after nearly year in Iraq

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- The first wave of returning 82nd Airborne Division soldiers arrived home Monday after nearly a year in Iraq, where they battled during the war and then worked to maintain order in its aftermath.

Spc. Keith Benoit and about 210 other members of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment stepped off a trio of C-5 transport jets onto the landing strip at the air base adjoining Fort Bragg, the 82nd Airborne's home.

Benoit, 21, from Monson, Mass., said he was looking forward to getting together with family and friends, and trying to readjust to American life.

"To me, it's 180 degrees. Everything's different," Benoit said.

Sgt. 1st Class Mike Creager was greeted by his wife, Angie, and their 10-year-old daughter, Kelsey, as well as his mother and his in-laws from Wadesboro.

Creager, 37, said during his time in Iraq he was struck by the difference in living standards enjoyed by his family compared with those of Iraqis, who suffered from 24 years of economic stagnation under deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

The poverty facing so many Iraqis, he said, is "shameful."

"The news on TV doesn't reflect how the majority of people live," he said.

The 82nd Airborne has suffered 26 deaths in Iraq since shipping out last February.

More than 6,000 82nd Airborne paratroopers are expected to return home by May from Baghdad and western Iraq, where anti-occupation violence has been strongest. About 2,200 other 82nd Airborne paratroopers are being dispatched to Iraq this month to fill in manpower gaps as U.S. units prepare to return home.

"You should have great pride. You've written pages of history," Brig. Gen. Richard Rowe, the assistant division commander, told the returning soldiers.

The returning Fort Bragg paratroopers will spend about a week unwinding and receiving additional counseling to help them make a smooth transition back to stateside life. They will then be on leave for about a month.

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On the Net

  • Fort Bragg: www.bragg.army.mil/

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