By MATT MILNER and MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writers
OTTUMWA — After a year on active duty, the 833rd Engineer Company is heading home.
Jaque Bookin-Nosbisch, wife of 833rd Sgt. 1st Class Sam Nosbisch, said there is one overriding emotion at her home: “Relief,” that her husband would soon be home.
But she was still waiting on word from the military.
“Wait, I just got an e-mail,” she said. Nosbisch paused for a couple seconds to read the message. “Yay! It’s official.”
Even before that message, though, she said she was “really excited” to know the unit was back.
“We’re just ecstatic,” she said, “ready to get our lives back on track.”
“Has it only been a year?” Rep. John Whitaker asked jokingly. You could hear the smile in his voice. His son, Gabe, is among the soldiers who will arrive at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hellyer Center on the Indian Hills Community College campus.
Another soldier’s father was at the Ottumwa VFW post when he found out. Dave Handling’s face softened as he broke into a wide grin. He’s ready to see Derek, the son he calls “my hero.
“We didn’t know if it was going to be Saturday or Sunday,” he said.
The first indications of a homecoming for the 833rd came a week ago, and it initially looked like the unit would return on Sunday. For family, moving up the return by a day is an awful lot better than moving it back.
Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood said the last of the 833rd soldiers arrived at Fort McCoy, Wis., around 9 p.m. Monday. The five-day turnaround for getting the soldiers processed and back home is within the Army’s normal schedules, according to Hapgood, but still impressive given the number of soldiers that use Fort McCoy as a transit point.
“It generally depends on how many soldiers are travelling through at any given time,” Hapgood said.
Whitaker said he heard some hints that the National Guard was aiming for a Saturday homecoming, but nothing official until Thursday. He has talked to Gabe most nights since the soldiers started arriving back at Fort McCoy. Just having him back in the United States was a big step, and now everyone’s ready to get him back home.
“Everyone around here has been smiling pretty big,” Whitaker said.
Soldiers with the 833rd went on active duty last June. It was the second deployment for many of the soldiers, who also deployed when the unit was known as Co. B of the 224th Engineer Battalion.
The company is trained in sapper skills, which means they perform route clearance missions and protect military convoys. The training is particularly important for units in Iraq, since roadside bombs are a favorite means for insurgents to attack American troops.
The 833rd’s expertise in those skills was a big part of the reason they were called back to active duty so quickly. Military officials said the unit was rated as one of the best in the Army and was selected based on that strength.
During the deployment, the 833rd is credited with conducting 495 combat patrols. Those patrols turned up 100 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and 13 pieces of unexploded ordnance. The military says the soldiers destroyed 55 of those explosive devices in place and cleared more than 40,000 miles of roads.