FORT MEADE, Md. -- With a normal demobilization load of about 4,600 troops coupled with a surge demob load of nearly 2,500 troops, First Army Division East personnel proved their professionalism and reinforced their reputation as the premier organization for demob support with the successful demobilization of more than 7,000 returning Warriors.

"First Army Division East personnel again showed us that they are preeminent in demobilization support to returning troops regardless of a surge or normal demob operations," said Brig. Gen. Steven Huber, First Army Division East deputy commanding general -- operations. "We've provided these returning heroes with demob support in the form of more efficient processing for health benefits, as well as ensuring they receive the Focused Soldier Care they deserve before returning to their families."

Preparations for a potential surge and improved demob processing began in November as Division East personnel worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs' Health Eligibility Center to improve the health benefits application process. In early December, First Army Division East units and personnel continued gearing up for a surge of service members demobilizing from normal Afghanistan rotations and the Iraq drawdown.

The projected increase required the division to stand up a dedicated demobilization cell within the division operations center. The cell coordinated daily with First Army, liaisons within both the redeploying units and units in Kuwait, and at all three mobilization training centers to ensure all information coming in was synchronized.

"The demob surge, also known as the holiday demob surge, was the result of President Obama's order to have all Soldiers out of Iraq no later than the new year," said Lt. Col. Janie Stephen, First Army Division East demobilization surge cell officer in charge. In October, President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011 as conditioned by the status of forces agreement with the country.

"First Army Division East initiated the surge plan between Dec. 13, 2011 through January 15, 2012, to ensure all Soldiers coming home received individualized Soldier care throughout the demob process," explained Stephen.

"The brigades were then tasked to account for allocated units, nonallocated units, and individual Soldiers during the holiday period," said Maj. Curtis J. Garrette, mobilization operations chief, 177th Armored Brigade, First Army Division East.

Allocated units mainly comprised redeploying units from Afghanistan who completed their normal rotation and were already slated to come home. Units returning home from Iraq early due to the drawdown made up the nonallocated units. That is, units projected to return home throughout 2012. Due to the desire for the majority of soldiers to be home before the end of December, Division East and its brigades worked closely with liaison officers in Kuwait to track which units and Soldiers would be on each flight.

In some cases, units were separated in Kuwait and demobilized at different sites. This separation required Division East personnel to carefully track not only the Soldiers, but also their equipment to ensure the entire unit and its assets reached their home station destination.

"We began holding synchronization meetings to ensure all units were tracking the same information in a timely manner, and we coordinated with our higher headquarters to track flights and Soldiers as they went through the process," said Stephen.

"The great coordination between First Army, Division East, and MEDCOM ensured that up-to-the-minute information was quickly disseminated to the MTC to ensure that the un-forecasted arrival of Soldiers was minimized," said Garrette.

Garrette went on to add that a team concept also enabled the operation brigades and training centers to provide real-time information to the First Army commander and key leaders to maintain situational awareness of the holiday surge.

Due to the significant increase in demobilization numbers, Division East carefully coordinated with their brigades to mitigate any issues resulting from the strain on normal resources. Division East also worked hand-in-hand with installation partners at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Miss.; Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind.; and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst., N.J.; to prepare for the increased resource and logistics needs. Brigades coordinated with the mobilization training center partners for increased access to installation recreational resources and transportation to post exchanges and commissaries for returning Soldiers.

All in all, Division East demobilized Soldiers from all U.S. states and territories. Despite the hard work and long hours, the end result was not only worth it but was much appreciated. "At an after action review with all stakeholders, our First Army counterparts took the opportunity to let us know that the First Army commander was very pleased with the entire demobilization process and outcome. He wanted to express his complements to the entire team," Stephen said.

"Our demobilization mission is critical to ensure returning Soldiers receive the support they need to transition successfully back into the civilian sector," said Huber. "To properly support these deserving heroes, we must get it right."

First Army Division East, headquartered at Fort Meade, Md., mobilizes, trains, validates, deploys and demobilizes Reserve Component troops. In 2011, the division has demobilized more than 26,000 service members in support of overseas contingency operations, such as Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn, at three mobilization training centers across the eastern United States.