FAIRBANKS - The first round of soldiers from the Alaska-based 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team has departed for the war in Iraq.
About 200 soldiers from Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks and Fort Richardson near Anchorage boarded planes Sunday, launching the start of a massive deployment from Alaska taking place in August. Altogether, about 3,800 brigade soldier will ship out. It's the largest Army deployment from Alaska since the Vietnam War.
The team will use the new Stryker units - eight-wheeled armor combat vehicles that carry soldiers.
The 130 brigade soldiers from Wainwright and 70 from Richardson who departed Sunday were the first to leave for the estimated yearlong deployment. The advance team leaves first to make sure lodging, transportation, food and equipment are ready for the main body of soldiers, who will depart throughout the month.
Before the Wainwright soldiers took off, Lt. Col. Greg Parrish, deputy commanding officer of the brigade said the time spent manning, equipping and training the brigade has culminated to this deployment. He said morale was good among the soldiers because they felt confident in their skills and equipment.
The soldiers said goodbye to family and friends at their battalion areas on Fort Wainwright. Some family members were crying, but they were also laughing, hugging and giving out high-fives, having known for a year and a half this moment was coming.
The soldiers were scheduled to depart from the Joint Mobility Complex on Eielson Air Force Base late Sunday night, taking an undisclosed route.
Earlier Sunday, the 70 Richardson soldiers and two Air Force members boarded a plane at Elmendorf Air Force Base. By late afternoon, they also had said goodbye to friends and family members.