Members of the Delaware National Guard are preparing to return from a yearlong deployment to Iraq.


 


No doubt there will be yellow ribbons galore — not to mention tears and smiles — as family members of 110 Delaware Army National Guard soldiers welcome their loved ones home next week.

The troops, members of the 261st Signal Brigade, were ordered to active duty and deployed to Baghdad Oct. 3, 2008, following a moving ceremony on Legislative Mall, Dover.

The soldiers will close out their one year of training and war zone experience at the same location with a reception ceremony Wednesday, Sept. 30.

But before this very public ritual, the troops got a private welcome from their families after they arrived at Fort Dix, N.J., where they are spending several days completing the paperwork to speed their transition from active Army life.

“They’ll have five to seven days of demobilization processing,” said Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, chief of public affairs for the Delaware National Guard. “There’ll be a lot of administrative paperwork, and a physical to find out if they have any injuries incurred during deployment so if they do, they’ll be covered.”

Speaking before the troops arrived, Delaware National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Francis Vavala, who saw his soldiers off last year and has visited them twice in Iraq, anticipated a “much, much happier occasion” as he greeted their aircraft at McGuire Air Force Base, immediately adjacent to Fort Dix.

“As they come down the steps with their gear and those smiles on their faces, it will be an opportunity for us to embrace them and thank them for a job well done,” he said.

“Emotions will be running high at that point.”

The soldiers arrived in Iraq in November following initial training before their mobilization and familiarization training in Texas.

While in Iraq, the 261st managed for all military communications within the country, the first National Guard unit given that responsibility.

“I had a chance to see their professionalism, how they’ve honed their skills and how they could apply their civilian skills to their military jobs,” Vavala said.

Part of that included upgrading the brigade’s headquarters building, and establishing what now is known as Baghdad Signal University, where Iraqi soldiers and police were trained in modern communications methods.

His troops, Vavala said, “could do things no others could.”

For the soldiers, getting ready to leave Iraq essentially has been a reversal of the process of arriving and setting up operations, Gratteri said. In Army slang, it’s a method known as a “right seat ride,”

“It usually takes a few weeks to a month,” he said. “It’s like riding in the passenger seat, where you work with the incoming unit, showing they what they’re supposed to do and answering all their questions.

“At the same time, they’re preparing to ship their equipment back.”

Plans now are underway for the public ceremony on Legislative Mall, which will include participation by Vice President Joe Biden, whose son, Capt. Joseph “Beau” Biden III, has been deployed as a legal officer with the brigade. The younger Biden also is Delaware’s attorney general.

Elizabeth Alexander, press secretary to the vice president said Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, did not plan attend the Fort Dix arrival.

“The vice president and Jill are excited about Beau’s return home and are proud of him and the entire 261st Signal Brigade for their service in Iraq,” Alexander said. “The vice president was able to see his son last week in Iraq, and he did not want to be a disruption at this very personal time for many families of the 261st.”

Because of press deadlines, photographs of the troops’ arrival will be posted to the Dover Post’s website, www.doverpost.com.

Email Jeff Brown at jeff.brown@doverpost.com.