The 18th Airborne Corps staff, led by Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue and Command Sgt. Maj. T.J. Holland, gather in front of the Joint Task Force - Dragon Headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, on Oct. 21, 2022, to commemorate the completion of the command's nine-month deployment to Europe. US Army photo by Lt. Col. David Olson.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — More than 300 soldiers who were among the first Americans sent to Europe as Russia prepared to invade Ukraine returned to Fort Bragg over the course of October. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III visited Fort Bragg on Tuesday, Nov. 1, to meet with the soldiers, many of whom spent as long as nine months deployed to Germany.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Tran, a facility engineer who deployed in April to support the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters, said that deploying was an honor but wasn’t without difficulty.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience and an honor to serve the greatest Army in the world and to do what is asked of us day in and day out,” Tran said. But he also missed his two young kids. “Being away for four and a half, close to five months and missing their growth during the summer was definitely a big challenge for me.
“My wife, Margaret — we’ve been together for 10 years,” Tran said. “She’s been phenomenal. I left literally with a week’s notice to go forward. She held it down the entire summer.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III meets soldiers assigned to the 18th Airborne Corps during an official visit to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, welcoming the unit and its soldiers back home following a nine-month deployment to Europe, Nov. 1, 2022. US Army Photo by Sgt. Jameson Harris.
The troops from the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters deployed to Wiesbaden, Germany, in early February as the first wave of troops sent to bolster NATO's eastern flank as Russia invaded Ukraine.
Since Russia launched its invasion in late February, the Defense Department has sent 20,000 troops to Europe, bumping the total number of troops on the continent to more than 100,000.
Sgt. Erin Conway said the deployment had been the first of her Army career.
“It means a lot to me as a soldier that the secretary of defense would come and meet soldiers that have recently redeployed,” Conway said. “It shows he cares, and I know we’re all very excited to have him here.”
While at Bragg, Austin met with the commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps, Lt. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue, then moved on to a family roundtable and meetings with other troops.
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Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.
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