GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lt. Col. David Davidson, left, yesterday discussed the deployment of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team to Iraq later this year with Capts. Glen and Shannon Helberg. The married couple are with the 25th Infantry Division. CLICK FOR LARGE
Stryker unit set to deploy to desert fight
4,000 more from Oahu to join combat in Iraq
Despite setbacks brought about by environmental lawsuits that restricted training, leaders of the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team say they're on track to deploy to Iraq in December.
Capt. Glen Helberg, who served a combat tour in 2003 in Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division, says he's looking forward to putting the 19-ton, eight-wheeled Stryker vehicle through its paces.
Helberg belongs to the nearly 4,000-member Stryker team, one of 10 Army brigades that received orders taking them to Iraq for up to 15 months.
This will be the 2nd Brigade's second combat tour to Iraq. It lost 13 soldiers during its 2004 deployment to the Kirkuk area.
Like many couples in wartime, Shannon and Glen Helberg spent the first 18 months of their marriage apart on different assignments, including a six-month combat tour for Glen in Afghanistan.
This time the couple, both captains in the 25th Infantry Division, will be going to Iraq in December. However, they don't yet know if they will be stationed together.
They are among the nearly 4,000 Schofield Barracks soldiers who received deployment orders for Iraq yesterday. The 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team is one of 10 brigades that will be sent to Iraq beginning in September.
Schofield Barracks leaders estimate that about 30 percent of the nearly 4,000 deploying soldiers will be headed into combat for the first time.
Lt. Col. David Davidson, who will become deputy brigade commander next month, said about 50 percent of the brigade deployed to Iraq in January 2004. The 2nd Brigade then was stationed outside Kirkuk. It lost 13 soldiers during its first Iraqi combat tour.
The brigade leadership has stayed in contact with the sister unit -- the 3rd Brigade -- which has been in Iraq since August. Two weeks ago, its tour of duty was extended for three months.
"We stay in touch with video teleconferencing and other means," said Davidson, who has already seen combat in Iraq in 2003 with the 4th Infantry Division. "We understand what is going on and what the fight is, perhaps better than we did five years ago."
Davidson said that by the end of this week the 2nd Brigade's five battalions and one squadron will have spent two to three weeks each putting their new, 19-ton, eight-wheeled Stryker combat vehicles through their paces at the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area.
Training with the new Stryker vehicles has been limited because of litigation surrounding both use of the Makua Valley Military Reservation and the adequacy of environmental studies justifying the establishment of a Stryker unit in Hawaii.
Last year a federal appeals court sided with Malama Makua when it ruled that the Army violated environmental laws by failing to consider sites other than Hawaii for the fifth of its seven planned Stryker brigades.
Later, U.S. District Judge Dave Ezra allowed the Army to resume limited training so the Stryker brigade could train and equip its soldiers to fight in Iraq.
The Army said the soldiers and the large vehicles were not able to maneuver while firing live ammunition anywhere on Oahu or on the Big Island.
Instead, they were forced to postpone that type of training until they deploy to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in the Mojave Desert in August. Davidson said that no decision has been made yet whether to send the 330 Stryker vehicles from California to Iraq, or bring them back to Honolulu first.
Meanwhile, the Helbergs have been treasuring their two years together in Hawaii.
The officers -- both West Point graduates -- had just gotten married in 2002 when Glen Helberg, 29, was sent to Afghanistan for six months with 101st Airborne Division. They spent an additional 12 months apart on different assignments.
This time, however, Shannon Helberg, 30, says it'll be easier knowing exactly where her husband will be when the 2nd Brigade goes to Iraq.
"I'll get more information faster and probably will be in better shape than the wives who will be left here," said Shannon, commander of the 185th Military Intelligence Company.
Glen Helberg, commander of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, said he'll find it easier not having to worry how his wife is handling the separation.