300 Fort Bragg Troops Return From Deployment on NATO’s Eastern Flank

Fort Bragg: 18th Airborne Corps HQ

The XVIII Airborne Corps staff, led by Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue and Command Sgt. Maj. T.J. Holland, gather in front of the Joint Task Force-Dragon Headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, on Oct. 21, 2022. US Army photo by Lt. Col. David Olson.

US Army photo by Lt. Col. David Olson.

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.”

Fort Bragg Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III meets soldiers assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps during an official visit to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022. US Army photo by Sgt. Jameson Harris.

US Army photo by Sgt. Jameson Harris.

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.

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Jenna Biter has written for regional magazines and digital outlets including on great power competition and special operations medical teams for The National Interest. She is pursuing a master’s degree in national security and is working on speaking Russian. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the US military? Email Jenna.
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