Deployment, change shape military

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 19:00
2012 a year of comings and goings on base
Spc. Alan Mellen and his daughter, Ambree, share some French fries before a homecoming ceremony for the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division held Nov. 1 at Sullivan Arena. The 3,500-member “Spartan” brigade completed a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan in October.

Events in Afghanistan dominated military coverage in 2012, as a 3,500-member brigade spent much of the year in hostile territory. That group returned to Alaska in October. The year’s other big news on base came in May, when Gen. Michael Garrett took over command of the U.S. Army Alaska from Gen. Raymond Palumbo.

Here are the military stories the Star focused on in 2012:

— In January, Col. Morris Goins of the Army’s recently-deployed 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division — the “Spartans” — updated Anchorage media on the brigade’s progress in Afghanistan. Col. Goins said the brigade had encountered only minor skirmishes since arriving in Afghanistan in October 2011, and had so far suffered no fatalities.

— In March, 145 soldiers from the 164th Military Police Company, 793rd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Engineer Brigade returned from a yearlong tour in Afghanistan. The “Arctic Enforcers” deployed overseas in March 2011 to help train Afghan police.

— Spc. Jeffery White, a 21-year-old paratrooper with the 4th Brigade Calvary Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, became the first of eight “Spartans” to die in action when his unit was attacked April 3 by an improvised explosive device. White, of Catawissa, Mo., was on his first deployment. Other Spartans killed in action during the deployment included:

Staff Sgt. Thomas Fogarty, 30, of Alameda, Calif. (May 6)

Sgt. Brian Walker, 25, Lucerne Valley, Calif. (May 15)

Pfc. Richard McNulty III, 22, Rolla, Mo. (May 15)

Pfc. Vincent J. Ellis, 22, Tokyo, Japan (June 4)

Pfc. Tyler Davis, 20, Yucaipa, Calif. (June 9)

Staff Sgt. Carl Hammar, 24, Lake Havasu City, Ariz. (June 14)

Spc. Ethan Martin, 22, Lewiston, Idaho (Aug. 7)

— In a May 2 interview from Afghanistan, Spartan Brigade chaplain Maj. Ken Bolin spoke about how he tries to meet the spiritual needs of all soldiers — regardless of faith — while deployed in hostile territory.

“We are here to provide for all,” said Bolin, who visited soldiers in the battlefield during a National Day of Prayer event May 3-4.

— On May 9, the body of missing JBER Airman Clinton Reeves, 24, was found by a group of hikers near the top of Skyline Drive in Eagle River. Friends and family had posted pictures of the missing airman across Eagle River and Anchorage since he disappeared April 19. Reeves’ fellow airman, James Thomas, was later charged with Reeves’ murder.

— The U.S. Army Alaska got a new — but familiar — leader when Gen. Michael X. Garrett took over command from Maj. Gen. Raymond Palumbo in a ceremony held May 17 on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Garrett previously served as commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division from 2006 to ’08.

“It is absolutely fabulous to be back in Alaska,” Garrett said. “It really is like coming home.”

— In June, 45 soldiers with the 716th Explosive Ordinance Detachment, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 2nd Engineering Brigade, returned home after a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan.

“It feels amazing,” said Sgt. 1st Class Maximo Cabrera, who got to meet his 6-month-old daughter for the first time. “There’s no words how I can describe it.”

— Officials estimated 225,000 people visited the 2012 Arctic Thunder open house and air show on JBER July 28-29. Despite traffic jams for some people trying to get on base, spokesman Luke Waack called the biennial event “a huge success.”

— As his 3,500-member “Spartan” brigade prepared to redeploy back to the States, Col. Morris Goins sat down for a phone interview with the Star. Goins said the thing he was looking forward to most was peace and quiet and getting to see his wife, Yolanda.

“Having a quiet dinner with the boss lady is what I plan to do,” Col. Goins said.

Goins said he felt like the brigade’s mission of providing security and training the Afghan Army in eastern Afghanistan had been a success.

— While he was away in Afghanistan, Goins’ wife was busy filming a television show. Along with seven other Army wives, Goins filmed “Married to the Army: Alaska,” a reality television show that premiered Nov. 18 on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Mrs. Goins called the show — which was filmed in Anchorage, Eagle River and on JBER — “a story of sisterhood and selflessness and sacrifice.”

— On Nov. 1, the 3,500-member brigade was welcomed home following its 10-month deployment in support of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

During the ceremony at Sullivan Arena, Gen. Michael Garrett — who as a colonel was the brigade’s first commander from 2005 to 08 — welcomed the group home with the 4/25’s battle cry.

“Sparta Lives!” Gen. Garrett told the crowd.

— On Nov. 16, the Spartan brigade unveiled a monument on JBER to those killed during the most recent deployment. During the ceremony, a tearful Col. Goins spoke of the heroism displayed by soldiers like Pfc. Vincent Ellis, who died defending his fellow soldiers.

“He makes us very proud,” Goins said.

— On Dec. 5, the Spartan brigade welcomed a new commander when Col. Matthew McFarlane took over from Col. Goins in a ceremony on JBER.

— In December, Chuck Canterbury — a civilian who served as the Army’s Media Relations Officer in Alaska for 38 years — retired after 49 years of service. Canterbury served in the Army from 1964 to ’67 before embarking on a career in media and public relations.

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