FORT BRAGG, N.C. — More than 300 soldiers who were among the first Americans sent to Europe as Russia prepared to invade Ukraine returned to Fort Bragg over the course of October. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III visited Fort Bragg on Tuesday, Nov. 1, to meet with the soldiers, many of whom spent as long as nine months deployed to Germany.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Tran, a facility engineer who deployed in April to support the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters, said that deploying was an honor but wasn’t without difficulty.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience and an honor to serve the greatest Army in the world and to do what is asked of us day in and day out,” Tran said. But he also missed his two young kids. “Being away for four and a half, close to five months and missing their growth during the summer was definitely a big challenge for me.
“My wife, Margaret — we’ve been together for 10 years,” Tran said. “She’s been phenomenal. I left literally with a week’s notice to go forward. She held it down the entire summer.”
The troops from the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters deployed to Wiesbaden, Germany, in early February as the first wave of troops sent to bolster NATO’s eastern flank as Russia invaded Ukraine.
Since Russia launched its invasion in late February, the Defense Department has sent 20,000 troops to Europe, bumping the total number of troops on the continent to more than 100,000.
Sgt. Erin Conway said the deployment had been the first of her Army career.
“It means a lot to me as a soldier that the secretary of defense would come and meet soldiers that have recently redeployed,” Conway said. “It shows he cares, and I know we’re all very excited to have him here.”
While at Bragg, Austin met with the commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps, Lt. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue, then moved on to a family roundtable and meetings with other troops.