100th Battalion assesses gains in Iraq
Soldiers due home starting today aided security forces and detained insurgents
More than 100 soldiers with Hawaii's most famous battalion were expected back on Oahu tonight, the first of several hundred who are returning in the next several days after serving in Iraq since February.
And it has been a fruitful and quite often dangerous mission for the nearly 700 soldiers with the 100th Battalion, who have been stationed about 50 miles north of Balad, Hawaii National Guard officials said.
During the 10-month deployment, the unit:
» Recovered 650 artillery rounds and rockets and 206 rifles and pistols.
» Assisted, trained, coached, mentored and equipped Iraqi security forces (both army and police).
» Enhanced security in their area of operations by detaining more than 80 "important insurgents."
» Worked with Iraqi security forces and the local civilian government to ensure a safe and secure environment for the Iraqi constitutional referendum and Iraqi national parliamentary elections held on Dec. 15.
It did not come without losses. During their deployment, the 100th suffered four deaths: two soldiers from Saipan, one from American Samoa and one from Kansas.
In an e-mail, Lt. Col. Colbert Low, the battalion's commander, praised his troops, saying they had accomplished a great deal during their stay in a complicated area, including key training for Iraqi security forces.
"As a direct result of these efforts, the performance of the Iraqi army and Iraqi police in our area have significantly improved. We have validated the Iraqi army company in our area for independent operations," Low wrote.
The 100th also played a key role during the elections. Low said their job was complicated because most of the population in their area of responsibility is Sunni and located between two large Shiite populations.
"We had over 80 percent of all registered voters in our area participate in the democratic process by voting during both of these elections (approximately 19,000 votes for the constitutional referendum and approximately 21,500 votes for the parliamentary elections)," he said.
Soldiers already are looking forward to being back home, and wondering how they're going to adjust. As "a newlywed and having a ... baby, I wonder how good a father I am going to be," said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Matsumoto, of Waialae.
"My wife has raised our son with the help of my mother while I was deployed. I just keep on wondering what I could possibly do to make up for all that she has gone through while I was gone."
"Besides that, it would be nice to know that I can walk outside without a helmet, body armor and weapon. Not constantly worrying about where the next mortar round or rocket attack will come from or even if my fellow soldiers will be all right during their patrols outside the wire," he said.
The soldiers will arrive in several batches:
» 136 soldiers, drawn from mainland units, are expected to arrive at Hickam Air Force Base at 10 tonight. They will go through the demobilization process at Schofield Barracks and then be sent home.
» 86 29th Brigade Combat Team soldiers are expected at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
» 300 soldiers are due back next Thursday.
» 150 members are due on Jan. 9.
» Nearly 200 Oahu and Hilo members of the 100th Battalion will be honored at a special ceremony on Jan. 12 at Schofield Barracks.
» Similar recognition ceremonies for other 100th Battalion soldiers will be held on Wednesday on Guam, next Thursday on Saipan and Jan. 11 on American Samoa.
» Also, the main body of Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers from the 29th Brigade Combat Team are expected to return in mid-January.
In the meantime, Low said his troops have to be careful while they await travel to Hawaii.
"It has been a long mobilization. However, until we depart ... our soldiers must remain vigilant. Our battalion's mission will not be over until the mission is assumed by another unit," he wrote. "Until that date our soldiers must aggressively conduct our operations to train, mentor and coach the Iraqi security forces in their counterinsurgency operations to continually improve the security of the area."