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JSCE Warriors return from Iraq unscathed

Story by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor

Army Staff Sgt. Roberto Valentin, 2nd Joint Communications Squadron Element, hugs his son after returning from Iraq.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

Amid laughter, tears and a roomful of emotions, 22 servicemembers from the Joint Communications Squadron Element returned to MacDill from Balad Air base, Iraq, Sunday.

After two days of traveling from the other side of the world, the 2nd JCSE Warriors were welcomed by family and friends at JCSE headquarters.

"I can't really explain how I feel. I just wanted to run and jump into his arms, but we had been waiting for so long I was just kind of in shock," said Brenda Valentin, wife of Army Staff Sgt. Roberto Valetin, about when her husband burst through the "Welcome Home" banner. "It was beautiful though. I am so proud of each and every one of the people serving over there (in Iraq)."

"The hardest part was being away from my family," said Sergeant Valentin, Microwave Systems operator section chief, who is anticipating a long-awaited vacation with his wife and four children. "My son wants to show me everything and be with me all the time, and the girls are very happy to have me home, too."

Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Salas, Computer and Automation Repair technician, said his family is very supportive of the fact that he must be away at times, but they are very glad to have him home.

"My wife is prior military, so it's a blessing that she knows how it is," he said. "My son has made a list of things he wants to do now that I'm home; mainly to go outside and play ball."

Not everyone who returned has a family here in the Tampa area but the single Warriors are just as excited to be back in the States. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Edman, Satellite Communications section chief, said he missed the everyday freedoms many people forget about.

"I missed being able to just go get in my car and head to a movie or a restaurant," he said. "They were starting to build up the base where we were with a movie theater and a store, but it's hard to make plans to see a movie when you have to grab your gear and head for the bunkers because of incoming mortars."

1st Sgt. Anthony Miller, 2nd JCSE Warriors 1st Sgt, said the 22 members who arrived here Sunday were the last of the troops to return from this rotation where they accomplished tasks well beyond their calling.

"Our primary objective was to provide 100 percent reliable communication, command and control to warfighter commanders throughout the area of responsibility in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom," he said, emphasizing that his troops pushed the limits in every way possible. "They were recognized by the Combined Special Forces Task Force commander, a full-bird colonel, for providing the most reliable communication capabilities he's ever had in his military career."

The Warriors hit the ground running from the time they initially left May 6, said Sergeant Miller. Initially deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, for a month, they successfully relocated 120 tons of equipment and all personnel to Balad within 24 hours. While there, they ran more than 10 miles of communication cable, and installed and operated seven high priority communication systems in support of the commander. In a normal working environment, these tasks are impressive enough, but when the hostile conditions are factored in, it is evident that these warriors pushed the boundaries of what is possible.

He said five of his warriors were selected for perimeter security while at Balad, a task which has never before even been asked of them.

"From their arrival in Balad June 6, the 2nd JSCE Warriors encountered 120 mortar attacks and 50 rocket attacks," said Sergeant Miller, adding with a grin that no injuries or major damage was sustained. "This has been a great experience for the 2nd. This is the first time many of these guys have been in a real-world combat zone."

The combat zone wasn't limited to Balad though. Several warriors were forward deployed to other locations, to include Qatar, Pakistan and the Philippines. The missions there were very similar: to provide secure communications capabilities including voice and data transmission, and video teleconferencing in support of the commanders in each location.




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