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Schofield soldiers head back to Iraq


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POSTED: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

After spending almost two years back home after a 16-month tour in Iraq, 2,400 Schofield Barracks soldiers are being redeployed to Iraq in October for 12 months.

“;From the 233-year history of the United States of America, no Army has sustained more combat for this long—more than eight years,”; said Brig. Gen. Michael Terry, commanding general of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, which serves as the division-level command for the 25th Aviation Brigade while the 25th Infantry Division headquarters is deployed to Iraq.

More than 100 helicopters belonging to the air cavalry brigade, including UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-53 Chinooks and OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, were shipped out Aug. 1 and 2 by cargo vessel.

For many of the members of the brigade, combat missions and deployments are common. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the brigade has been deployed four times—once to Bosnia, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan—and has participated in three operations, including Joint Forge, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

“;I think there's always a kind of excitement about going, but the closer we get, the more nervous and worried I get about my family more than myself,”; said 12-year veteran Sgt. 1st Class Walter Rocker, who will be going on his third deployment to Iraq. “;I just really want my family to be OK and safe.”;

To prepare for this mission, the brigade engaged in 18 months of rigorous training, including four-month-long training rotations at Fort Irwin, Calif., to give soldiers an idea of what to expect in Iraq. Col. Mike Lundy, 25th Aviation Brigade commander, said he “;has never been more confident”; that the brigade is ready for its deployment.

“;We've been ready for quite a while,”; said Lundy, who will be going on his fourth combat tour in Iraq. “;I would have been comfortable deploying the brigade about eight months ago when we finished our key training.”;

Although armed warfare is still a looming threat to the brigade, Lundy said the intensity and frequency of the attacks have decreased. For Lundy the biggest challenge facing the brigade is the gradual pullout of soldiers in Iraq, which the Obama administration hopes to accomplish by 2012.

The deployment comes at the heels of a recent tragedy in May, when a helicopter crash at Wheeler Army Airfield claimed the lives of Chief Warrant Officers Stanley Blane Hepfner, 29, and Jonathan Bryce Millward, 28, both members of the 25th Brigade.

“;Any time you lose soldiers, it take a toll on the brigade,”; Lundy said. “;We certainly don't want to take casualties ... but is something that we've all had to deal with through conflict and also through training.”;

The constant deployments and the long separations have also hit brigade families especially hard. Crystal Rocker, wife of Sgt. Rocker, said the separation “;was really, really tough”; despite having daily contact with her husband, a communications specialist.

“;I'm not ready (for him to leave), but I don't think you're ever ready,”; she said, “;but I know that I can get through this deployment just like the previous ones.”;

Rocker said the separation was especially difficult for her three children, Kayden, 9, McKenna, 7, and Carson, 3.

“;It was tough,”; she said. “;They really missed their daddy.”;