We’ve been writing a lot about mass homecomings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord lately, and will continue to do so. Much of the attention is showered on the three returning Stryker brigades – with about 4,000 soldiers each, there’s no way to ignore them, even if you wanted to.
But the long holiday weekend saw the return of another brigade, albeit a smaller one: the 17th Fires Brigade.
The unit’s more than 1,000 soldiers are now back from Iraq. Nearly 320 returned early Thursday evening, another 100 on Saturday, and more than 360 early Tuesday morning. Before that, the brigade’s advance party came home in early June.
They were part of “Task Force Thunderbolt” in Basra Province in the south of the country.
The 17th Fires was the first American brigade to spend a full deployment in Basra after the British handed over responsibility in March 2009. A News Tribune embedded reporter and photographer were fortunate to spend several days with the troops in January.
These soldiers were geographically positioned to work on countering Iranian influence in Iraq. They worked alongside Iraqi soldiers and commandos on everything from foot patrols to aerial assault missions. They did a wide range of infantry-style missions.
What they did not do was the task for which the 17th Fires was created: firing their long guns at enemy emplacements. The war in Iraq is in the waning stages of a counterinsurgency, and the American military has little need there for 155 mm howitzer cannons.
The brigade did not suffer any fatal casualties during the deployment.