CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - Florida's largest National Guard Unit is coming home after a year-long deployment to Kuwait. Soldiers with the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, known as the Gator Brigade, marked the official end of their tour in a Transfer of Authority ceremony, Dec. 15, in a desert warehouse on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
During the deployment, the 53rd ensured the safe flow of personnel and equipment throughout Kuwait and Iraq. Additionally, the Gator Brigade managed operations at five camps spread throughout the country. Soldiers in different battalions performed a variety of duties such as escorting logistics convoys, securing deep-water sea ports, training with the Kuwaiti Army, and screening personnel at check-points.
"These were not easy tasks or missions. It took dedicated professionals, thousands of hours of planning, preparation and supervision to make it all work," said Maj. Gen. Kenneth S. Dowd, commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command.
In his address at the ceremony, Col. Richard J. Gallant, commander of the 53rd IBCT, encouraged Soldiers to take pride in the historic nature of their deployment. "During this largest deployment of Florida National Guard Soldier since World War II, you have set a standard of excellence for all to emulate," he said.
"I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished here, and you need to be proud also: Proud of your service to your state and nation, proud of your sacrifice and your commitment, proud of your tremendous contribution toward the responsible draw down and the transition from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn," he continued.
Gallant also commended Soldiers for going beyond the requirements of their missions. "Each and every day, each and every one of you would ask 'what can I do to improve'' Whether it was a facility improvement, or a process improvement, or a Soldier care or customer service Issue, we maintained a positive, can-do spirit that is the hall mark of the Florida National Guard."
Soldiers with the New Hampshire National Guard 197th Fires Brigade have assumed responsibility for the missions in Kuwait in support of Operation New Dawn. Commanded by Col. Peter L. Corey, the 197th is made up of more than 2,000 Citizen Soldiers from five different states.
As part of the transition process, the 53rd IBCT has spent weeks training side-by-side with the 197th to prepare the Live Free or Die Brigade to take on the missions in Kuwait. "Your ability to sustain your missions while transitioning forces is the sign of a mature, experienced Army," said Maj. Gen. Dowd. "A successful TOA is dependent upon the skills and professional motivation of those involved. This TOA has gone like clockwork."
Each Soldier in the Gator Brigade will take home new knowledge and experiences gained from the year in the desert. Warrant Officer Lawrence Loughlin from Palm Harbor, Fla., served as the mobility officer for the 53rd IBCT. He organized the travel and shipment of more than 2,500 people and all their vehicles and equipment from Florida, to Texas, and finally to Kuwait. Now that the end of the deployment is here, Loughlin said he and his fellow mobility team members are "doing the whole thing in reverse to get everything back home."
When reflecting on his time in Kuwait, Loughlin said he got to use some unexpected transportation assets during his tour. "When we got here, we had a unit that was ... stationed in Qatar. We also had to move them and their equipment to Qatar, which was kind of neat because we put them on an Army watercraft. So, the Army boat took their stuff down there."
Loughlin, who served on active duty for 13 years before going into the Florida National Guard, said his most meaningful achievement has been "us not losing anyone or anything, and no one getting hurt in the whole movement process - the loading of equipment, moving of equipment. ... It's easy for someone to get hurt or something [to] get lost," he said.
Pfc. William Dunker, served as a paralegal for the 53rd IBCT Military Justice section and the Area Support Group-Kuwait Legal Assistance section. Dunker said in his much coveted down-time, he completed online classes toward a criminology degree. "I've learned how good of a student I can be. I got straight As," he said. He also completed the Law School Admission Test, LSAT, and is in the process of applying to law schools in the South Eastern United States.
When asked what he missed the most, Dunker had three words: "Friends, family, and fiancAfA." He summed up what it feels like to be going back to Florida in just one word: "Amazing."
In his parting words to the Gator Brigade, Maj. Gen. Dowd said, "We wish you a safe journey and a speedy integration back to your civilian lives and loved ones. We know your holidays will be bright."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16