Stryker soldiers begin returning to Alaska from nine-month tour in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait

Pfc. Waraporn Wangmulanklang, a Stryker Brigade combat engineer, outside her company headquarters in Baghdad.CREDIT NICHOLAS VIDRO/1ST SBCT/25TH ID PUBLIC AFFAIRS

UPDATE: The return of about 200 Stryker Brigade soldiers who’d been scheduled to arrive Friday at Fairbanks International Airport has been delayed. An Army spokesperson said Thursday night that due to flight delays, the Fort Wainwright-based soldiers will be arriving later this weekend.

ORIGINAL STORY: The first flight of Fort Wainwright-based Stryker Brigade soldiers will return Friday from a nine-month tour of duty in Iraq, Syria and Kuwait.

The 200 or so soldiers with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry are the advance party for some 2,000 soldiers with the Fort Wainwright-based unit that’ll be flying into Fairbanks International Airport in the coming weeks.

“We’re going to be expecting flights to come in throughout the entire summer,” says Lt. Austen Bouska, a spokesperson for the Brigade’s Task Force Reserve.

Bouska says after the Strykers offload from the chartered commercial airliner, they’ll be bused over Ladd Army Airfield on Fort Wainwright, where they’ll be welcomed in a brief ceremony. But he says unlike most such homecomings, the soldiers’ family members won’t be present, because of concerns over spreading the coronavirus.

“It was a difficult decision to make,” he added. “I mean, it was determined that was the best course of action, in order to mitigate any kind of risk.”

Difficult, because being greeted by family is traditionally considered a huge morale-boost for soldiers coming back from overseas duty.

“That’s what you’re most looking forward to, on your return home,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Bouska says the soldiers will be required to restrict their activity for two weeks or so while their health is being monitored.

Friday’s flight will be the largest single planeload of Strykers that’ll be returning from the theater. Soldiers from all seven of the brigade’s battalions were deployed for what the Pentagon calls Operation Inherent Resolve.Those include Strykers from cavalry, infantry, field artillery, engineering and logistical units.

The troops went sent in as part of a joint task force that officials said would mainly be helping train Iraqi troops and law-enforcement officers. Some Strykers were stationed at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq when it came under missile attack in January by Iranian militants.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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