News: Texas engineers return home from Afghanistan
KILLEEN, Texas - The unit insignia of the 176th Engineer Brigade proudly proclaims, "Quod Incepimus Conficiemus," latin for "What we have begun, we will finish." As the accomplished soldiers of this seasoned brigade rejoin their families after a long year on deployment to Afghanistan, they return confident in their mission success and the achievements of their overseas tour.
"The mission was totally and completely a success," said Col. Frank Zuniga, chief of staff for the 176th Engineer Brigade.
The flight from Afghanistan routed through Germany and Illinois before finally touching ground at the Robert Gray Army Air Field at 5:10 pm on Thursday, July 7. This deployment was the first official mobilization for the Grand Prarie-based outfit, although many of its soldiers have deployed previously with other units.
Sgt. Erin Miller, the brigade legal NCO, last deployed to Iraq in 2005 with the 136th Signal Battalion.
"It feels really good to be home, back in Texas," said Miller.
While in Afghanistan, the brigade put their skills and training to the test as they supervised and directed all engineer efforts throughout the northern half of the country.
"The accomplishments were over 468 construction projects," said Capt. Thomas Loftis, outgoing headquarters commander and brigade assistant operations officer. "That was everything from troop construction, facilities improvements and infrastructure. We also had over 200,000 kilometers of route clearance that we completed."
Route clearance refers to clearing roads of improvised explosive devices and other hazards with the use of engineer techniques, tactics and procedures to make it safe for passage for both military and civilian traffic.
"It was an excellent mission," said Brig. Gen. Lester Simpson, commander of the 176th. "It gave us an opportunity to work with Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine service members. More importantly, we worked with the Afghan National Army engineers, teaching them engineer fundamentals, as well as combat engineering."
Through it all, the mission was not without its losses.
"Within our task force," said Simpson, "we had 18 fallen heroes. The worst months for us were October, November, December and January. It was the most dramatic period of combat operations in Afghanistan."
On hand to receive the incoming outfit were representatives of the Texas Military Forces leadership, including Maj. Gen. John Nichols, adjutant general for Texas; Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Brandt, senior enlisted advisor for the Texas Military Forces; Brig. Gen. Joyce Stevens, commander for the Texas Army National Guard and Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Broyles, sergeant major for the Texas Army National Guard.
"They really did do a good job," said Stevens. "They served well; they made Texas proud and it is good to have them home all safe and sound."
At the heart of the brigade's homecoming stand the families, who sacrificed a year without their loved ones.
"The families have been the ones without us for a long time, " said Zuniga, "so they're the ones that endured all the unknowns. We have to thank all the families for everything they've done while we've been gone. It'll be good to see them and spend time with them."
Now that the mission is complete and the unit is home again, the soldiers of the brigade will begin the process of family re-integration and returning to their home lives. These actions include family assistance gatherings such as yellow ribbon events, which offer focused guidance for soldiers and families following deployment.
"First thing," said Simpson, "is that the soldiers will go through the demobilization process and take some well-deserved leave. We'll come together for the first yellow ribbon event in August, where we'll bring in the families and talk about some of the issues that normally occur during deployments and provide resources in case they have any issues."
Without question, these commendable troops have earned their peace at home, after so decidedly finishing what they had started more than a year ago.