By Chelsea Bissell, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public Affairs August 24, 2012
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- With much formality, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr marked the official return of the 172nd Infantry "Blackhawk" Brigade from Afghanistan in an uncasing and remembrance ceremony, Aug. 9.
The uncasing, a ritual revealing a brigade's flags to mark its return from deployment, was bittersweet as family members, civilians and fellow Soldiers paid their respects to the fallen, the injured and the redeployed.
In a speech following the brigade flags' uncasing, Col. Edward T. Bohnemann, 172nd commander, extolled the unique accomplishments of each battalion during deployment, labeling the mission as a "job well done."
"All of this would not have been possible without the disciplined Soldiers within our ranks and the professionalism demonstrated every day, every mission, even under the most extreme of conditions," added Bohnemann.
While the ceremony illustrated the brigade's success, it also honored its fallen heroes. The 172nd lost 10 Soldiers in Afghanistan -- six in combat, two to suicide, one in an accident and one by natural causes.
Framed photos of the Soldiers, complete with boots, M-4s and tags, stood before the spectators on the parade field. Prior to the uncasing, 10 members of the Audie Murphy Club, an organization of elite noncommissioned officers dedicated to community service, laid wreaths before each portrait and then observed a moment of silence.
For 1st Sgt. James Mastrodomenico, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, who placed the wreath at Staff Sgt. Daniel Quintana's picture, the remembrance hit home. Mastrodomenico knew three of the fallen Soldiers honored during the ceremony.
Losing a Soldier is "twofold," explained Mastrodomenico. "It creates a tighter bond, but it also leaves a lot of questions."
Though gone physically, the deceased service members will remain an integral part of their units.
"They'll never be forgotten. That's why we do this. But, it doesn't take a memorial to remember them," said Mastrodomenico. "We talk about them every day. They're great Americans. Their families should be proud of them every day like we are."
The uncasing ceremony also honored the 172nd's 85 injured comrades.
In his opening words, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army, gave a shout out to Spc. Matthew Melancon, 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, who arrived from his wounded warrior battalion in Fort Hood specifically for the uncasing.
Melancon was injured when an IED hit his vehicle in Afghanistan, shattering his heels and causing his leg bones to drop through his feet.
"I was ready to go, trying to assist my driver and when I got on the ground, I realized how bad it was," he explained.
Melancon was then taken to Fort Hood for treatment, where he's been recovering since September 2011. His trip back to Grafenwoehr for the uncasing was a necessary move toward his recovery.
"I definitely needed the closure to see my guys," said Melancon. "We became really close in a short amount of time. I wanted to welcome them home, wish them the best."