The Falcon Brigade said goodbye to Somalia on Tuesday and remembered its five soldiers who died in the U.S. attempt to restore hope to a country torn by war and famine.
"You have helped give the Somalis a chance to pull their country together and lift it out of chaos," Maj. Gen. Thomas Montgomery, commander of all American troops in Somalia, told the U.S. Army brigade's headquarters unit.
"You'll have a wonderful homecoming, but it will be saddened by the memories of the fallen comrades lost on this mission," Montgomery said.
Falcon Brigade headquarters assumed the duties of the U.S. quick reaction force headquarters on Aug. 7. In August and September, the brigade directed combat operations that included aerial raids and search operations against Somali clansmen opposing the U.N. effort to rebuild Somalia's institutions.
During the Oct. 3-4 battle with Somali gunmen in Mogadishu that killed 18 American soldiers, Falcon Brigade's troops helped rescue 90 soldiers who were surrounded and under heavy attack in the city.
The battle led President Clinton to decide all American troops would get out of Somalia by March 31. The U.N. peacekeeping force that remains will be down to about 20,000 soldiers by the end of this month, compared with the peak of 33,000.
Staff Sgt. Marty Smith of Hillsdale, Mich., said the men were eager to return home to Fort Drum, N.Y., proud of the things they did in Somalia but worried how their mission will be remembered.
"The victory isn't so obvious. It's a victory against hunger instead of against outside forces. The bottom line is we saved thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives," he said.