800 soldiers, rushed to Middle East, return home to Fort Bragg

In January, 3,500 82nd Airborne Division soldiers were rushed to the Mideast.

Fort Bragg welcomed home 800 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division Thursday. They had been rushed to the Middle East in late December to assist with regional security after protesters attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

"Nearly 800 Paratroopers from the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, along with members of the 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, the 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment and several enabler teams from the Immediate Response Force Brigade (IRF) began their redeployment from the Middle East back to Fort Bragg, N.C.," according to a statement from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

"The remainder of the 1st Brigade Combat Team remains deployed providing support to the CENTCOM Commander for any missions deemed necessary," the statement continued.

A complement of about 500 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade was ordered to rush to Kuwait on Dec. 31, following the storming of the outside perimeter of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad by Iranian-backed militiamen. Hundreds of these forces were surged into Baghdad as reinforcements, while hundreds of U.S. military forces serving in administrative roles were taken out of Iraq.

The entire 3,500-soldier unit was ordered to Kuwait following the heightened tensions with Iran after the Jan. 2 U.S. drone strike in Baghdad that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force.

The drone strike led to concerns that the United States and Iran might be drawn into a regional conflict, but tensions eased following Iran's retaliatory missile strike on two bases in Iraq that housed American troops.

A U.S. defense official said that the 800 troops that returned to Fort Bragg were among the first to have deployed to Iraq shortly after Iranian-backed protesters stormed the outside perimeter of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

"The situation is more stable," said the defense official when asked why the troops were returning to the United States.

But the official noted that while U.S. military commanders continue to assess the Iranian threat situation in the region, it was determined that enabler units that might not be fully needed for the ongoing mission could be redeployed back to the United States.

"The deployment of the Immediate Response Force (IRF) to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR) was a conditions-based process intended to provide additional defensive capabilities in support of U.S. forces and interests," said Maj. Rob Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesperson.

"Re-deployment assessments and decisions regarding the IRF remain a similar conditions-based process," he added. "As conditions in the theater continue to change, commanders constantly reassess force levels. As such, some elements of the IRF have re-deployed to their home stations in order to reset, train and re-assume their vital role in providing ready response options to contingency missions worldwide."

"We could not be more proud of these Paratroopers and it is an honor to welcome them home," said Maj. Gen. James Mingus, the 82nd Airborne Division commanding general. "These great men and women honored the tradition of Paratroopers that came before them by answering their Nation’s call on a moment’s notice."

While deployed to Kuwait the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment served as U.S. Central Command's Immediate Response Battalion and carried out realistic training in case they were needed elsewhere.

Designed to deploy anywhere in the world within 18 hours of receiving the orders, the Immediate Response Force Brigade's deployment in January was described as the most significant no-notice deployment of combat forces in 30 years.

Now, back at Fort Bragg, the unit will prepare for an upcoming exercise in Europe this spring known as Swift Response 20, the airborne portion of the larger annual Defender Europe 20 exercise that will involve other elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. This year's version of Defender Europe 20 will involve the largest deployment of U.S.-based troops to Europe for a military exercise in more than 25 years, a part of the strategic re-focus on Russia in the wake of Russia's military actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.