| FAIRBANKS, Alaska, Dec. 15, 2006 -- Army leaders praised military families here during ceremonies this week for standing solidly behind the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team during its 16-month deployment to Iraq.
Ashley McCulloh and her son, Brooke, welcome home their husband and father, Army Capt. Timothy McCulloh, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, after his 16-month deployment to Iraq with the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Courtesy photo '(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Secretary Francis Harvey told families of brigade members during the Arctic Wolves redeployment ceremony here Dec. 12 that the Army recognizes their sacrifices and will continue its efforts to support them.
Harvey thanked the families for the strength they demonstrated during the long separation that became even more difficult for them after the brigades deployment was extended four months. Your soldier could not have done (their) mission without the support they received from each and every one of you, he said.
Look, we are an Army of soldiers and families. That is the centerpiece of what we are, and it is my number-one priority, Harvey told American Forces Press Service following the ceremony. We asked our soldiers and families to go above and beyond what is required, so I am going to be here with them, to thank them and tell them how much we appreciate them.
Army Col. Michael Shields, who commanded the brigade in Iraq, told family members both at the redeployment ceremony and at yesterdays change of command and reflagging ceremony that few people can fully appreciate what the families endured, particularly during the units extension.
No one will ever understand the suffering, the sacrifice, the challenges you and your children -- our children -- faced during the 120-day extension, he said at the Dec. 12 ceremony. I am humbled by your support, and I am in awe of your sacrifice and selfless service of the military families. You have my utmost respect and admiration.
When the unit was extended, Shields delivered news of the extension personally to family readiness group leaders via teleconference from Baghdad. During the 90-minute session, he told the family members he understood their disappointment and acknowledged the hardship the extension would cause.
At the brigades redeployment ceremony, he called the way the families accepted the news a legend.
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., commander of U.S. Army Alaska, echoed Shields praises at yesterdays ceremonies, during which the brigade was redesignated the 25th Infantry Divisions 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team and Shields passed his command to Col. Burdett Burt Thompson
Thank you for your service, Jacoby told family members. That service has been just as extraordinary as your soldiers. Your soldiers could not have achieved their success without you.
Leticia Waldorf, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Eric Waldorf, said she was happy to hear Army leaders acknowledge the role families play in keeping the home fires burning while their loved ones deploy. Waldorfs 9-month-old son, Nathan, was born while his father was in Iraq.
I appreciate that they took the time to recognize the commitment and the sacrifices the families make, she said. Its not something you hear all the time, so Im pleased.
Sgt. 1st Class David Dodson, who served in Iraq with Company B, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, said that as tough as things sometimes were in Iraq, he knows that the families left behind carried an even heavier burden.
It was rough when we were there, and there were times you didnt think it would end, he said. But it was harder on the families than it was on us. Being gone makes you look at your family a little differently now.
Ashley McCulloh, wife of Capt. Timothy McCulloh, understands firsthand the challenges families face when their loved ones deploy and said the extension made things even more difficult.
Ashley was seven months pregnant when her husband deployed with his units advanced party in July 2005 and became 172nd Headquarters and Headquarters Company Brigades family readiness group leader a few months later, after her husband took command of the unit.
The challenges families faced ran the gamut, she said, from keeping cars running and pipes from freezing during the harsh Alaska winter to taking care of the kids single-handedly while running the household.
But as difficult as that was, Ashley said it got even more difficult after families who were expecting their loved ones home at any time got word of the extension. Ashley and another unit wife had to deliver the news personally to about 90 spouses. It was really hard because (the soldiers) were so close to coming home, she said, noting that about 300 brigade members had already arrived back in Alaska. There you were, driving on post and seeing the welcome home signs. It was heartbreaking.
Most of the families rebounded quickly and well, she said, supported through a strong family readiness group network and other support the Army provided. The Army community pulled out all stops to make sure families were prepared to handle the additional stress of the extension, she said.
New family assistance centers opened at Fort Wainwright and Fort Richardson in Anchorage to help families deal with nonrefundable airline tickets, powers of attorney that were about to expire, moving concerns and mental health issues. The Army augmented the local support staff with child psychologists, adolescent counselors and specially trained chaplains with advanced degrees in family counseling. The post chartered a plane and offered spouses a free shopping trip to Anchorage, while providing child care while they were gone.
They responded quickly and made sure families knew that they were concerned and they cared, McCulloh said.
In addition, McCulloh called visits by Harvey, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker and other Army and DoD leaders to express support for the families very helpful.
It gave the spouses someone to talk to who they felt could make a difference, without having to work through a lot of chain of command, she said. They felt that they could go right to the people who could correct a problem, and they did. It was really helpful for them and sent a strong message that the leadership cared.