CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq (Army News Service, Nov. 27, 2006) - The Arctic Wolves are returning to Alaska after 16 consecutive months of operations here.

The Soldiers of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team cased their colors in a Nov. 24 ceremony outside the Division Morale Welfare and Recreation complex. The ceremony marked the official end of combat operations for the unit deployed primarily from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and partially from Fort Richardson.

"The Arctic Wolves have accomplished a great deal in the last 16 months; successful partnership and COIN (counter insurgency) success in Northern Iraq, protecting the population and reducing the EJK (extra-judicial killing) violence in our focus areas of Baghdad," said Col. Mike Shields, brigade commander.

In accomplishing the mission, Shields said the 172nd suffered the loss of some great Soldiers. The unit lost 26 Soldiers and 350 were wounded in action, according to Maj. Michael Blankartz, brigade public affairs officer.

"It is time for one of the greatest brigades in our Army's history to case the colors and return home. We will never forget the sacrifices of our Soldiers, our families and our children," Shields said during the ceremony.

After 12 months of service in Northern Iraq, mainly Al Anbar, Rawaha and Mosul, the Arctic Wolves were ordered to Baghdad for an additional four months of service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 172nd spent the final 106 days of its deployment conducting combat operations in Baghdad.

"Just in support of Operation Together Forward (the last four months of the deployment), we cleared over 70,000 buildings in Baghdad," said Blankartz.

A return to their natural habitat of Alaska has been a long time coming for the Arctic Wolves.

"Hopefully our presence here brought a lot of organizations together so that we have a sense of what we need to do next, without sacrificing lives of Soldiers and Iraqis," said Staff Sgt. Yvonne Smith, a command group administrative assistant for the brigade. "It should be taken as a lesson learned. It's not the Strykers alone. It's engaging the people and showing them you are human."

Blankartz said the Arctic Wolves had five Silver Star Medal recipients and the pack received the Valorous Unit Award from Gen. George C. Casey, the commanding general of the Multi-National Force - Iraq, for its exceptional service.

"For the strength of the pack is the wolf," Shields quoted Rudyard Kipling to close the ceremony, "and the strength of the wolf is the pack."