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XVIII Airborne Corps hosts welcome home return ceremony

February 6, 2012

By Sgt. Katryn Tuton, 50th Public Affairs Detachment

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Feb. 6, 2012) -- The XVIII Airborne Corps commanding general and command sergeant major, Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick and Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Rice, subordinate division commanders and more than 100 distinguished guests attended the XVIII Airborne Corps' Welcome Home Return Ceremony on Fort Bragg Feb. 2.

More than 750 XVIII Airborne Corps Soldiers recently returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq. After taking well earned leave to reconnect with friends and family, they returned to work participating in a busy week of events.

Approximately 600 paratroopers exited aircraft to refresh their proficiency during three days of airborne operations, command groups from each of the subordinate divisions and units flew their respective colors to Fort Bragg to join the more than 14,000 XVIII Airborne Soldiers participating in the Corps four-mile run, and finally the week concluded with the official XVIII Airborne Corps Welcome Home Return Ceremony.

"This is what it's all about," said Sgt. Joevince San Nicolas, a mechanic for Headquarters Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, XVIII Airborne Corps. "After a year long deployment, I'm glad to be doing what I love again -- being a paratrooper and jumping out of airplanes."

San Nicolas isn't the only one that loves being back home at Fort Bragg.

"It's the best way to start your day," said Helmick during the ceremony. "Everyone should be able to wake up and run four miles with 13,000 paratroopers."

The return ceremony marked the end of the Corps' third deployment to Iraq and successful completion of Operation New Dawn in which U.S. forces handed off their duties to trained Iraqi counterparts and withdrew from Iraq.

"The Iraqi military has grown from nothing in 2003, to 14 Army divisions today," said Helmick, adding that Iraq now has a proficient Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and police force all with the help of the Soldiers of XVIII Airborne Corps.

During the deployment, in addition to enhancing the Iraqi capabilities and maintaining security through combat missions, the Corps was also assigned the momentous task of retrograding 1,639,000 pieces of equipment and closing all 80 U.S. bases throughout the country, including Camp Victory, which once housed 25,000 troops.

"No one in the world could do what we did," said Helmick. "Paratroopers make a difference. Paratroopers get the job done, and in Operation New Dawn it was the paratroopers of XVIII Airborne Corps who planned and executed the final phase of Operation New Dawn."

"It was a good deployment," said Sgt. Christopher Smith, guidon bearer for 10th Mountain Division's color guard, who flew in from Fort Drum, N.Y. to participate in the events. "A lot was accomplished, but really I'm just glad to be home with my family."

In his remarks, Helmick also acknowledged that the largest sacrifice is made by the spouses and children that stay behind.

"To miss baseball games, to miss anniversaries and birthdays," he said, "it's tough on the families. We could not do the things that we do as Soldiers without supportive families. The families are what make the Army so strong."

And Helmick believes the XVIII Airborne Corp is comprised of the strongest families and Soldiers that the Army has.

"America will only provide the best to fight our wars -- those officers, warrant officers, noncommissioned officers and Soldiers at Fort Bragg and the XVIII Airborne Corps are the best we've got, by far," Helmick said. "In Iraq, Corps wasn't just the next unit, we were the last unit. When the history books are written about the final chapter of Operation New Dawn, it will highlight in bold print the uncommon accomplishments of XVIII Airborne Corps."

When asked about what comes next, Helmick said the focus remains on training, maintaining proficiency and being ready for any mission that might arise.

"We are the contingency for the United States Army. We have the only capability of entry into a denied area via parachute assault right here at Fort Bragg," he said. "We don't know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know that today, the XVIII Airborne Corps, if called, is ready to go."

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