By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
The 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division colors returned to Fort Hood last week, signaling the official end of Long Knife troopers’ yearlong deployment to Iraq.
The tour was the brigade’s fourth and final to the country.
Long Knife commander Col. Brian Winski and Command Sgt. Maj. Antoine B. Overstreet unfurled the colors during a joint homecoming and uncasing ceremony on Cooper Field Sept. 6.
“Everyone should be proud of these soldiers,” Winski said, “many of whom are finishing up their second, third, fourth and even fifth deployments. (It’s) an incredible display of selfless service.”
Brigade troopers began returning from Iraq last month. All are now home from their advise-and-assist mission in Iraq’s Ninewa province, including disputed territory on the Kurdish-Iraqi border.
The last Long Knife troopers to return, the brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, returned with Winksi and Overstreet.
Among the many homecomings occurring around them was that of Sgt. Winston DeBlanc, who met his third daughter for the first time.
“It felt awesome,” he said upon seeing 3-month-old Skylar who, perhaps overwhelmed by the circle of family and friends surrounding her, promptly spit up on his shoulder.
DeBlanc’s wife, Ruthie DeBlanc, laughed and joked, “Welcome home, Daddy!”
Ruthie DeBlanc and her other daughters, Delaney, 3, and Morgan, 18 months, waited for their own hugs following the homecoming.
DeBlanc, 26, deployed to Iraq two weeks before his wife found out she was pregnant, she said.
Ruthie DeBlanc said she got through the deployment and birth with the help of her church family from Killeen’s Memorial Baptist Church, including Meleaha Andrade, 25, whose husband is currently deployed to Afghanistan with the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division.
“To be on the outside looking in, I always love it when soldiers to come home and are reunited with their families,” Andrade said. “It’s humbling. Everything that you went through goes away when you see those white buses (carrying soldiers) pull up.”
The brigade deployed in September 2010, as one of the first to do so in support of Operation New Dawn.
Overstreet called the experience “rewarding,” following multiple combat deployments.
“I was looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “(And) we finished on a high note.”
Winski said he had the highest level of confidence” in Iraqi security forces’ ability to maintain regional stability Long Knife troopers helped to establish.
“The training wheels have been off for some time,” Winski said, noting that Iraqi forces had independently thwarted various attacks by insurgents “before they even happened” during the last year.
Winski didn’t have the same level of confidence following his first or second deployment to Iraq, he said. “I left before knowing I was coming back.”
“My thought was that I was truly leaving” this time, he said.
The mission wasn’t without its dangers, however.
Two troopers from the brigade’s 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment were killed in Iraq in January, when an Iraqi soldier they were training turned his gun on them.
The incident occurred at the all-inclusive Al Ghuzlani Training Center near Mosul, where brigade soldiers helped Iraqi security forces modernize their light infantry tactics.
Winski said the families of Sgt. Michael P. Bartley and Spc. Martin LaMar will be “forever a part of this unit,” and commended their fellow troopers for continuing with their mission following the accident.
Overstreet said other Iraqis’ horrified response “helped us gain that trust back” and go on.
One Long Knife soldier died in a non-combat-related incident.
The brigade officially relinquished its mission in the region to the 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Armor Division of Fort Bliss in El Paso on Sept. 4.
It is expected to close out American operations in the region ahead of a Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline.