1st contingent from 39th arrives in Miss.

Published 2:22 am Sunday, November 30, 2008

The first contingent of soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade to return from Iraq stepped off an airplane at an Army post in southern Mississippi late Wednesday night.

About 160 soldiers belonging to the brigade’s Troop A, based at Crossett and El Dorado, Ark., arrived at Camp Shelby on the night before Thanksgiving.

“It feels great. Glad to be home,” said Spc. Curtis Aiken of Hamburg, Ark., as he held his daughter Kirsten in his arms, with wife Stephanie at his side. “I’m very thankful I made it back.”

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The rest of the brigade’s 3,200 soldiers are scheduled to return throughout the month of December.

The troops were to begin Friday morning a demobilization process that is expected to take four to five days before they will be free to return to their homes after their second deployment to Iraq.

Maj. Gen. William Wofford, adjutant general of the Arkansas guard, said the demobilization process shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“We ask that our soldiers … discuss any issues they have as a result of the deployment, whether it is something as simple as back pain or something as complex as post-traumatic stress,” Wofford said in a letter to the soldiers and their families. “We ask that the families of these soldiers encourage them to be candid during the demobilization process in order to help us help them.

“The only thing better than having your loved one home for the holidays is having them home and healthy during the holidays for years to come.”

No deployments of Arkansas guard members are scheduled in 2009.

Last year’s deployment to Iraq was the second for the 39th. In late 2003, the brigade was sent to Iraq and served there until early 2005. During that deployment, 16 Arkansas members of the brigade were killed.

After the first Iraq deployment, some members of the brigade helped out on border missions in New Mexico and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina before receiving orders for a second deployment.