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In Iraq, combat troops head home to US with guitars, hope

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'Our strategy was irreversible momentum'

Most of the Strykers spent this deployment in and around Baghdad helping maintain security for elections and working with Iraqi security forces without firing a single shot in combat.

“Seven years of war is ending on their watch. I wanted them to walk home with pride in their hearts and understand that their sacrifice and their performance was well received,” brigade commander Col. John Norris told a group of reporters seeing off the first large group of soldiers.

For most commanders and their troops, the legacy of the war is more ambiguous than their accomplishments.

“Our strategy coming in here was irreversible momentum and history will be the judge whether it was truly irreversible,” says Colonel Norris, from Louisville, Ky. “The momentum was clearly established…what history will tell in a few years I don’t know.”

'Obviously you can feel tension, but I feel hope'

The brigade arrived in Iraq in August 2009 after being diverted from a planned deployment to Afghanistan, when it became clear that combat capability was needed here to prepare for Iraq’s national elections in March.

The elections in early March went off with minimal violence. But more than five months later, forming a new government has stalled over disagreements over who would get the top positions.

“Obviously you can feel tension with the government and wanting a new government but I feel hope,” says Capt. Christopher Ophardt, ending his third deployment here. “I think the hope isn’t so much in that everything’s going to be great – it’s we think there could be a future for Iraq. Whether that happens or not is where the angst comes in.”

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