KILLEEN, Texas - Just a few weeks after the troops from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, returned from their 15-month tour in Iraq, the leaders took time to thank several people who were vital to their success.

Leadership from the Black Jack Brigade hosted a luncheon inside Pignetti's restaurant in Killeen for more than 100 Family Readiness Group volunteers and their spouses Feb. 26.

The brigade commander, Col. Bryan Roberts started things off with a short speech about why they held the luncheon. He also took a moment to reflect on several of the accomplishments the group made while the troops were down range.

"Today we're here to socialize and to simply say 'thanks' and that we appreciate all you've done in the last 20 months," he said. "The greatest thing about this luncheon is that everyone here appreciates what each other did during the brigade's 15-month deployment."

"This group is the best in the Cav," said Laurie Siegel, the FRG assistant who sits on the commander's special staff. "They took on a lot of responsibility right from the start and never looked back."

While the roots of the group go several years back, most of the work began for the Black Jack families in July 2005.

The brigade was preparing for what began as a 12-month rotation into Iraq. About halfway through the tour the brigade was told it had been extended to a full 15 months like many of the combat units in the war.

About the same time, the group was already busy with visits to wounded warriors recuperating at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, fundraising for future events and keeping vital lines of communication open by use of extensive phone rosters.

During this period, the group was able to recognize about 300 volunteers for their contributions. According to Siegel the total number of volunteers throughout the deployment was probably closer to 650.

One such volunteer was Roseann Saxton, wife of Staff Sgt. Dennis Saxton of Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.

Saxton said she and many other volunteers began preparing for the troops' homecoming by putting together care packages and getting the barracks ready for when Soldiers came across Cooper Field.

"It's one big team and we all had to stick together," Saxton said. "It means a lot to acknowledge the families for their hard work."

"All these women have worked very hard," said Loretta Shatto, who works with the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. "12 to 15 months was really tough, but it's great that someone's taking the time to thank us."

"We want them to know that we love them and appreciate all their sacrifices and support that made our mission in Iraq a success," Roberts said.