FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The Dragoon Raiders formally returned to Fort Lewis Tuesday in a ceremony marked by tears, speeches and the strains of marches played by the 56th Army Band.

The Stryker Soldiers of 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, marked their official redeployment from Operation Iraqi Freedom with a ceremony on Watkins Field.

The I Corps commanding general, Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., Washington 6th District congressman Norm Dicks and a host of local political and military leaders congratulated the brigade for the successes of its deployment that spanned the period from April 2007 to June 2008. The ceremony formalized hundreds of private reunions Soldiers and their families celebrated as flights returned throughout the past month from Southwest Asia.

Jacoby, 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. commander, Col. Jon S. Lehr, and the top NCOs from I Corps and the brigade, Command Sergeants Major Frank A. Grippe and John W. Troxell, shared the ceremonial duties of uncasing the brigade colors, signifying the unit's return from combat. A new streamer for the Iraq campaign was hung at the top of the staff to mark the brigade's honorable service.

"Fort Lewis, our great state of Washington and the entire nation are indeed proud today of your successful mission and your return home," Dicks said to the formation of Soldiers. "You took the fight to the enemy's doorstep and presented a strong and stable presence that reassured local Iraqis that better days were ahead."

The I Corps commander called the deployment "historic," citing achievements that carried the hopes of U.S. foreign policy and stabilized the future of the fledgling democracy in Iraq.

"You were sent to Iraq with the express purpose of changing the very course of the war," Jacoby said, "a painful complex fight that cannot be lost."

The courage and determination of the brigade turned the tide against a vicious enemy, said the commanding general.

"Your mission led you to some of the most dangerous and volatile areas of Iraq," Jacoby said. "You took the fight into the enemy strongholds, you looked him in the eye, you took the worst that they could do and you bested them.

"You represented hope to those in need and doom to those with evil in their hearts," he said.

Jacoby presented two awards for valor at the start of Tuesday's redeployment ceremony.

Specialist Rodny Yefune received a Silver Star and Corporal Luke S. Runyan received a posthumous Bronze Star Medal with Valor device. Jacoby presented Runyan's widow, Courtney, the BSM on behalf of her husband.

The awards resulted from action in Bodija, Iraq on Feb. 18, 2008 when a team from the scout platoon of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment was ambushed by insurgent gunmen. The team fought off the close ambush and was ordered to pursue the enemy. Its members soon were pinned down by withering AK-47 and rocket-propelled grenade fire.

Runyan led his team by fire and maneuver until he received a mortal wound.

Yefune continued the attack despite heavy automatic fire, single-handedly assaulting the enemy position and subduing it, killing one insurgent and scattering the rest. He held the position, treating wounds and evacuating three team members to medical facilities. He "undoubtedly helped save his comrades' lives," according to the award citation.

Deploying to Iraq a month early, staying three months longer than planned, the Dragoon Raiders demonstrated their agility and resilience throughout their tour in Iraq, As the first Stryker brigade to deploy with all 10 variants of the combat vehicle, the eyes of the Army, the country and the enemy were on it.

The battalions each took responsibility for its own battle space in Salah e-Din and Diyala provinces. In November, the brigade reunited to conduct major operations against al-Qaida.

Operation Raider Reaper followed immediately by Operation Raider Harvest drove al-Qaida in Iraq from its strongholds in the iron triangle and the breadbasket, finally extricating its fighters from Baqubah - the self-proclaimed AQI capital.

During the deployment, the Dragoon Raiders conducted nine brigade-level operations and 550 battalion- and company-level missions throughout Diyala Province and the northern Baghdad Belt, routing al-Qaida and its affiliates and suppressing Shiite militias. In its battle space, the brigade became the chief executor of Multinational Force-Iraq commander, Gen. David Petraeus's counterinsurgency tactics of simultaneously bolstering the Iraq Security Forces, safeguarding key infrastructure and empowering local officials and government agencies.

By most combat metrics, the 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. accomplished its primary missions.

According to the brigade's newly revised history, its Soldiers killed or wounded more than 600 insurgents, detained 1,700 personnel as a result of combat operations, cleared 11,250 kilometers of routes, discovered more than 550 caches of enemy weapons and equipment and neutralized 1,295 improvised explosive devices.

Lehr said he took particular satisfaction in turning 12,000 former insurgents into Sons of Iraq, working to rebuild their country rather than destabilize it.

Success exacted a heavy price of the brigade. Fifty-four assigned or attached Soldiers lost their lives during the deployment.

"I made a request of these Soldiers 16 months ago," Lehr said, "that we serve proudly and return home with honor. I submit to you the 54 men who made the ultimate sacrifice and the men and women standing in the formation today epitomize the concept of valor, bravery and honor."

The legacy of their sacrifice, he said, is already being realized in the gradual transition to a free Iraq, capable of defending and governing itself.

"We assisted in returning back to the Iraqis the country they value and cherish back from the insurgents and criminals who seek to destroy that great nation," Lehr said.

The end of the ceremony also marked the beginning of hard-earned block leave for most 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. Soldiers.

Don Kramer is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian


Now that's a care package

For one Soldier, the return to Fort Lewis meant more than a reunion with family and the chance for well-earned time off. Tuesday's redeployment ceremony also brought Corporal Michael Gallagher a new Jeep Liberty sport utility vehicle.

Representatives of Operation Gratitude, a volunteer organization that has sent thousands of care packages overseas to deployed U.S. service men and women joined with Chrysler Limited Liability Corporation prior to the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division redeployment ceremony on Watkins Field to present the car to Gallagher. He had been the recipient of the 300,000th care package assembled by Operation Gratitude, which thanks to Chrysler, included the keys to a Liberty vehicle.

Chrysler went a step further by surprising Gallagher with a bittersweet gesture of arranging with a local company to paint on the hood the names of five fellow A Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment Soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq.

"Corporal Gallagher told us he wanted to honor his fellow Soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our great nation by permanently displaying their names on his Jeep," said Frank Fountain of Chrysler LLC. "We're deeply grateful for the sacrifice of those Soldiers and that Corporal Gallagher has chosen to remember them each day."

Gallagher had expected to receive the vehicle Tuesday, but was visibly moved that it came with the names of his friends on the hood.

"I did not expect it to be done," Gallagher said. "I had plans to get it done myself. They chose to do it themselves. For everything that you do for everybody out here, I'm very grateful."

By Don Kramer