CLINTON — Local families are rejoicing today as their loved ones have returned from serving with the Iowa Army National Guard in Iraq.

A community homecoming ceremony was held at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo on Wednesday for approximately 560 Iowa Army National Guard soldiers mobilized with the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, known as the “Ironman Battalion.” As part of the 134th Redbull Brigade, members of the 1-133rd served 16 months in Iraq, the longest deployment to date of any unit since World War II. Prior to being deployed, the unit underwent six months of training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. Following a rotation through the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, La., the 1st Battalion 133rd Infantry out of Waterloo arrived in Iraq in March of 2006. The soldiers began their mission of convoy security in the western region on May 1, 2006.

Team Leader and Spc. Douglas Walwer found out he would be deployed with the battalion in September of 2005. Having previously served active duty from 1994 to 1998 in North Carolina, Walwer re-enlisted in May 2005 after a seven-year break from service. His mother, Alice Smith, said she was impressed by her son’s dedication and commitment.

“I don’t know how any parent could be prouder of a child,” she said.

Laura Brown, mother of 29-year-old Sgt. Jeremy Brown, said she is immensely proud of her son. Jeremy enlisted during his junior year of high school, shortly after being accepted to the Milwaukee Institute of Art. He joined the Iowa National Guard in an effort to earn money for college. An army “brat” herself, with her father serving in numerous locations such as Korea and Iran, Laura said she knew her son would be called to duty. The current term of service was Jeremy’s second tour of duty in Iraq, having gone with the 234th Signal Battalion to Iraq a few years ago.

During their deployment, the 1-133rd provided security for more than 500 combat logistical patrols and escorted 62,000 trucks more than 4.1 million vehicle miles in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. The battalion ran regular missions from their base in Al Assad, Iraq, to Trabil, Jordan, escorting supplies such as fuel and water.

Walwer recounted that the environment in Iraq is much different than anything he was used to.

“The dust was real bad over there. The sand is more of a powder. We constantly had dust storms,” he said. “It got so bad sometimes, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.” He remarked one of the things he missed the most besides his family, was grass.

Walwer said the soldiers really appreciated the care packages they received from here at home and from citizens across the country.

“We would get care packages from all over the place,” he said. “From here, a group in Minnesota. Lyon’s Tap sent all the guys care packages. They’d have a lot of snacks in them, chips, cookies. It really meant a lot.”

Walwer said the treats not only lifted the battalion’s spirits, but helped to keep them safe as guardsmen would give snacks to Iraqi children as they passed through different areas, and some children would warn the soldiers about impending dangers awaiting them further down the road.

The unit was slated to return to the U.S. in April, but the soldiers’ tour in Iraq was extended until July by President George Bush as part of his surge of forces plan.

“We were ready for him to come home then,” said Laura.

Walwer recounted that members of the unit took the difficult news in stride and recommitted themselves to their duties.

“It’s like you say, ‘OK, we just have to do it a little bit longer,” he said.

The unit returned to the United States via Bangor, Maine, just a few weeks ago and arrived in Fort McCoy, Wis., for debriefing and demobilization. Jeremy called to let his family know he was nearly home.

“He was in the United States, so we were really happy,” she said.

As the buses traveled to Waterloo from Fort McCoy, Wis., the soldiers were escorted by police vehicles and approximately 50 motorcycles driven by riders brandishing the American flag.

Laura Brown traveled with Jeremy’s grandmother, Pat Keen, and her cousin, Katie White, to the homecoming ceremony to welcome him home.

“We are so happy that they’re back, it’s been almost two years of worrying,” Laura said. “I cried when I hugged him, but I’m happy now.”

Walwer, too, had called after arriving in Wisconsin to let his mother know he was almost home.

“He told me he would be on the pitcher’s mound holding the flag,” she said. “I made sure I was close enough to see him and he could see me. I couldn’t wait to hug him.”

Laura Brown said one of the more impressive elements of the homecoming, was the outpouring of support. She noted Jeremy reported that every overpass coming through Wisconsin featured citizens holding welcome home signs and waving flags, cheering for the guardsmen in a homecoming for heroes.

“I think it’s so neat how they did that. It was really nice, everything everyone did,” said Laura. She said one of the neatest things the family saw was a sign held that said “Land of the Free, because of the Brave.”

Laura said the families are so glad to have their guardsmen home, safe and sound.

“We’re really happy to have him home,” Laura said. “We’re glad he’s safe. It’s good to have your kids home.”

The battalion now will have 90 days off. Upon returning home, the first order of business for Jeremy and Douglas was to visit with family and friends. Both guardsmen said they mean to catch up on some much needed rest and relaxation.

Jeremy has six more years of service with the Iowa National Guard and is not sure where he will perform that service. Walwer will begin attending military school in Utah in August. He said he will take it easy until school begins and when it is complete, he plans on returning to work at Custom Pak. Walwer said he is unsure when the unit may deploy again, but a rumor has circulated that the battalion will not be deployed for two to three years because they have been called up three times in the last five years.

While in Iraq, the unit suffered the loss of two soldiers from the 133rd Infantry. Sgt. 1st Class Scott Nisely, 48, of Marshalltown; and Sgt. Kampha Sourivong, 20, of Iowa City; were killed Sept. 30 in a gun battle with insurgents. Another 30 guardsmen were injured in the line of duty during the deployment.

The 133rd Infantry’s service in Iraq and the impact on the soldiers’ families was the focus of a one-hour program by CBS network’s “60 Minutes” news magazine that aired over Memorial Day weekend. Families said the network camera crews were present at the homecoming ceremony as part of an update on the battalion that will air later this year.

The Brown family has a welcome home party planned for Jeremy. The party will be held at the Main Avenue Pub on Aug. 3. Laura said guardsmen with the battalion, their family and friends and well-wishers are welcome.

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