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Md. guard unit back from Iraq ahead of schedule

IraqBarack ObamaFort Hood (military base)

A Maryland National Guard unit has returned from Iraq ahead of schedule, the first Marylanders to come home since President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of the year.

The 17 members of the Baltimore-based 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, who were not due back until early next year, are now at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, Maryland guard spokesman Lt. Col. Charles S. Kohler said Wednesday. They are scheduled to return to the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore in the next few days.

Their return leaves roughly 300 Maryland guard troops in Iraq. They include elements of the 1729th Forward Support Maintenance Company, the 2-224th Assault Helicopter Battalion, a network support company of the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion and an air traffic control company of the 1-111th Aviation Battalion.

One hundred and twenty members of the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade were mobilized at the beginning of September for deployment to Iraq. They now are divided among Iraq, Kuwait and Fort Hood, Texas.

Obama announced the drawdown from Iraq last month. Pentagon officials said this week that the United States will maintain a military presence in the Middle East.

"Our goal is to promote stability and we expect to continue to have strong military-to-military relations with countries in the region including Iraq, to include Kuwait, to include others," Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday.

Kohler said the Maryland guard units in Iraq are awaiting orders.

"They're in the process of evaluating what their potential demobilization and what their status is going to be," he said. Units now in Iraq could be recalled to the United States or could be redeployed elsewhere, he said.

The members of the 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a unit of public affairs officers, left Maryland on Jan. 5. Divided among Baghdad and other locations in Iraq, they produced stories and videos on the U.S. operation there.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

http://www.twitter.com/matthewhaybrown

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