Friday, December 31, 2004

Christina Ramirez gave her husband, Staff Sgt. Andres Ramirez, a big kiss and hug yesterday after he and his fellow soldiers from the 40th Quartermaster Company and 84th Engineer Battalion returned from Iraq.


A soldier will get Halloween,
Thanksgiving, Christmas and
more jammed into a single day

New Year's Eve will be a celebration like no other if 9-year-old Harrison and 4-year-old Jerry "Bart" LaCross have their way.

Today will be a celebration of all the holidays and birthdays their dad, Capt. Jerry LaCross, missed while he was in Iraq as commander of the 40th Quartermaster Company.

"They will begin the day by wearing their Halloween costumes," said the boys' mother, Ashli LaCross. "Then we plan to have a turkey Thanksgiving dinner with dessert a birthday cake. Then we will open presents. All this will be done in one day. It was the boys' idea."

Capt. LaCross took command of the 110-member quartermaster company in August, but many of his soldiers had been in Iraq since January.

Yesterday, they marched with vigor into the helicopter hangar of the 225th Attack Aviation Battalion at Wheeler Army Air Field after a 32-hour trip.

Joining them were 13 members of the 84th Engineer Battalion. A large banner that said, "Welcome Home, Heroes of the 25th ID and USARHAW" hung over the hangar doors as they marched to the theme from the movie "Rocky." A cheer rose from the crowd of spouses, children and friends.

"It's those screams of joy from the families that we like to hear," said retired Army Gen. David Bramlett as he watched with members of the USO who had prepared a breakfast snack of pizza and Coke for the returning soldiers.

The 114 soldiers were the first of the more than 5,000 members of the 25th Infantry Division who was sent to Iraq in early January. More than 40 chartered flights have been scheduled to ferry back all but about 3,000 members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team during the next 30 days.

The 2nd Brigade was forced to extend its deployment through March to provide security for the Iraqi national elections planned for the end of January.

LaCross, 36, said his unit survived the year-long combat mission with no casualties, "although there were a few combat-related injuries." He said it was a relief to bring home all the soldiers of his company.

Assigned to the 264th Corps Support Battalion from Fort Bragg, N.C., the Schofield Barracks soldiers worked out of Camp Striker near Baghdad International Airport. Their main job was to convoy fuel, water and other supplies to Army units within a 50 mile radius.

Their biggest threat: IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

"You can't predict where they will hit," LaCross said. "We were very fortunate. Our hits were few and far between. But our soldiers were well trained and knew how to react."

Rosario Miranda said her husband, 1st Lt. Francisco Miranda, never talked about those dangers.

"I found about them from a friend," she said. "Apparently, at one point his convoy had been ambushed, and they went after them and caught them. But he didn't want me to know about it and worry. He was surprised when I asked him about it."

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