WILMINGTON -- The Army's 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade will return from duty in Iraq in July, an unexpected reduction in the unit's tour from 15 to 12 months.
When the brigade of 3,500 paratroopers is back in North Carolina, it will be the first time in three years that the entire division is stationed at its home base of Fort Bragg.
Maj. Tom Earnhardt, a spokesman for the 82nd, told The Associated Press on Friday that the 1st Brigade will leave Iraq in mid-July and be replaced by the 4th Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas.
The unit -- nicknamed "Devils in Baggy Pants" by a German officer in World War II -- is based at Talill Air Base in southern Iraq but operates all over the country protecting convoys along the roads from Kuwait and Jordan into Baghdad.
"The Devils have performed tremendously well ... and we're ready to welcome them home," Earnhardt said. "For a short period, the entire division will be here together, and that will be valuable time."
The brigade went to Iraq last year and wasn't expected to return until September. The Army had previously announced plans to reduce deployments to 12 months from 15 but had said the reductions would begin with units heading to Iraq after Aug. 1.
An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, said there has been no change to the Army's plan for switching from 15-month to 12-month deployments beginning in August. He said the timing of the redeployment of 1st Brigade was determined by commanders in Iraq, based on conditions there.
In an e-mail message, Col. Charles A. Flynn, the brigade commander, told the AP his unit got orders to return to Fort Bragg on May 2, and families of the unit's paratroopers were told about the early return two days ago. Flynn said that while the unit is excited to be heading home, its mission in Iraq isn't yet complete.
"It is critical at this point in the deployment to remain focused on the mission in order to ensure a smooth transition with our replacements," Flynn said.
The 1st Brigade won't return in time to join the rest of the division as it welcomes President Bush to Fort Bragg next week. The president plans to attend the division's review ceremony, the centerpiece of the 82nd's "All American Week."
The celebration was canceled last year, since all four of the 82nd's combat brigades and its headquarters unit were deployed. The division's 2nd Brigade led the U.S. troop surge into Baghdad last year, while the 3rd Brigade was one of the first units to complete a 15-month tour in Iraq. The 4th Brigade and the division headquarters returned from Afghanistan in April.
The 1st Brigade's paratroopers will on on leave for about 30 days after they return.