The northeast Iowa native who’s been commanding a unit of Iowa National Guard soldiers in Iraq has a dream site for their welcome home ceremony. Lieutenant Colonel Ben Corell of Strawberry Point and his 640 troops went to Iraq nearly 16 months ago and the unit is due back in Iowa sometime in late July or early August.
“From my standpoint as the battalion commander, my desire is to bring all my soldiers back home into the UNI-Dome and that’s what I’m trying to have accomplished and there’s a couple of reasons why I want to do this,” Corell said Thursday during a conference call with Iowa reporters. “One is it allows us to finish this mission the way we started and that is together.”
Corell’s dream to have a huge “welcome home” ceremony in the UNI-Dome may have to be abandoned, though, if some of his soldiers make it through the military’s transition process before others and are released and he doesn’t want to keep those soldiers waiting.
According to Corell, his soldiers have a few dreams of their own. “We’ve been here for quite a while and there is no alcohol allowed in this theater of operations,” Corell said. “There’s some folks who are looking to invest some of their money in a six-pack of beer and sit on their front porch.”
The unit had been scheduled to return in April, but their tours of duty were extended. Corell doesn’t expect another detour to keep him and the soldiers in Iraq much longer. “I just don’t see that as a probability as I sit here today,” Corell said. “Too many things are in motion to get us out of here.”
For one thing, replacement soldiers are already in Iraq and starting to take over the security duties Corell’s troops have been performing.
Thirty-five soldiers in the unit have been wounded. Five of those were flown back to the U.S. for treatment while the rest are back on duty within the unit. Two of Corell’s soldiers were killed in Iraq, and that’s been “tough” for Corell.
“It’s painful and I’ll tell you that the loss of these soldiers will be with me the rest of my life,” Corell said. “I’m not saying that because I have guilt. I’m saying that because it was a huge loss for these families of these fine Americans and that pains me.”
According to Corell, everybody has a right to their opinion about the war, but when Corell gets stateside again and is asked, “Was it worth it?” his answer will be “yes.”
“We’ve done very well here. We’ve done everything we’ve been asked to do. We’ve done it for longer than we expected to,” Corell said. “We have made a difference.”
The soldiers spent six months training in Mississippi before getting to Iraq, where they have spent the past 15 months. “I’m awful proud of this group and I’m very much looking forward to getting these fine soldiers back home and back into the arms of their loved ones,” Corell said.
Corell’s battalion includes soldiers from Guard units in Waterloo, Dubuque, Oelwein, Iowa Falls and Charles City.