Northeast-headquartered army brigade begins Iraq tour

The 56th Stryker Brigade, a 4,100-member contingent of the Pennsylvania National Guard headquartered in the NEast, formally took over patrol of  a 900-square-mile area northwest of Baghdad last Tuesday.

The troops, who make the largest Pennsylvania Guard force to serve overseas since World War II, first arrived in Iraq in January and are scheduled to remain until September, according to the Inquirer.

Read more and see video of one member of the brigade’s departure below.

There had already been casualties, though their official duty as primary security force only began last week, according to the Inqy story: In a telephone conference call with Pennsylvania reporters yesterday, Ferraro reported that in addition to having lost a soldier killed in combat, the brigade had had two men badly wounded in recent days.

He said that although his rural sector was “much more stable” than it was only a year ago, the casualties were a harsh reminder that “there is still a war going on here. . . . There are still people out there trying to kill coalition forces, Iraqi forces, and just local people.”

Spec. Keith Maul of Portage, Pa., not far from Johnstown, lost his right arm and right leg in an insurgent attack, Ferraro said. Maul was driving in a column that was hit by RKG-3 antitank grenades, first used by the old Soviet army. No mention was made of any Philadelphia residents, from the Northeast or otherwise, though the brigade does have its headquarters in the NEast.

Below see a report by the Erie Times on a member of the brigade, who reported to the Cambridge Springs Readiness Center Jan. 2 2009 for deployment. The unit then joined in Fort Dix, N.J., for additional training before leaving for Iraq later that month.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztW977MQx28]

Before being deployed the Philadelphia Bulletin and Tastykake Baking furnished the troops with some gifts, including treats. In November, the force was training in Louisiana, as covered by the Inquirer.

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