Deployment for 25th
likened to Vietnam
The division's orders changed
on short notice in both conflicts
For many in Hawaii's military community, the news that the 25th Infantry Division is going into combat seems like history is repeating itself.
Retired Army Chief Gen. Fred Weyand, 87, recalled that when he took command of the Tropic Lightning Division in 1964, Schofield Barracks soldiers thought they had six months to prepare to fight in Vietnam.
"It's like what just happened with the 25th," said Weyand, who retired to live in Hawaii in 1976 and is now a Damon Estate trustee. "They were told early they were going to Afghanistan, and that's what they were training for. ... With us, orders were changed just before Christmas and we spent Christmas Eve loading out."
In 1965, under the largest airlift up to that point, 15,000 Tropic Lightning soldiers and their equipment were flown to Vietnam during "Operation Blue Light" and remained in Vietnam until November 1970.
The four-star general who rose in ranks to serve as Army chief of staff from 1974 to 1976 said he notes many similarities between his Vietnam experience and what is taking place in Wahiawa, especially the plight of the soldiers' families and the effect on the local economy.
"We sucked the life out of the economy of Wahiawa when we left and were gone for nearly five years," he said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Franklin Ashe, 46, the 25th Division's senior enlisted soldier, agreed that there are similarities, but he noted one difference.
"The Army today doesn't do individual replacements" as it did during the Vietnam War, in which officers could be assigned to a unit for just a year, creating morale and leadership problems, according to Ashe, a 28-year Army veteran.
"Leaders and soldiers (today) are going in together and leaving together," he said.
With 12,476 soldiers assigned to Schofield Barracks, less than 4,500 will be left by early summer when the two brigades are deployed.
In July, Schofield officials were notified that 8,000 Tropic Lightning soldiers would become part of military rotation, substituting for the soldiers fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan.
The first 3,500 members of the 2nd Brigade weren't expected to leave for their six-month rotation to Afghanistan until February. They were supposed to have been replaced by fellow Tropic Lightning soldiers from the 3rd Brigade in the summer. It would have been the 25th Division's first large-scale European mission and the largest since the Vietnam War.
But on Thursday, the Pentagon amended the 25th's orders. Now the 2nd Brigade, with 4,500 soldiers, will be sent to Iraq as early as February, while the 3rd Brigade, with 3,500 soldiers, will leave for Afghanistan in April. Instead of six months, the tours of duty for the two Schofield units were doubled.
Ashe said he also doesn't believe that the Pentagon's sudden shift in assignment will affect the morale at Schofield.
"When soldiers know in advance where they will be deploying to, they will have a better opportunity to physically and mentally prepare their families," he said. "We could leave tomorrow and be OK and do our job."