160 soldiers back home


POSTED: Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Five-year-old Issabella Hokanson had a hard time curbing her energy as she whirled and danced before a mosaic of hand-painted signs welcoming home units assigned to the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Bronco Brigade Combat Team, which is completing nearly a year in the war zone of Iraq.

Minutes later her tall, lanky dad, Staff Sgt. Joel Hokanson, embraced both Issabella and her 8-year-old sister, Cierra, at the same time and then included their mother, Rebecca, in his bear hug.

Hokanson was home yesterday after spending nearly a year in Iraq.

He was part of the lead element of 160 Tropic Lightning soldiers from the brigade's Headquarters, Headquarters Company, and the 25th Special Troops Battalion who marched into the staging area at Wheeler Army Airfield, cheered on by spouses, children and friends.

The scene will be repeated over the next month until all of the 4,500 soldiers from the 3rd Brigade and the 25th Division's headquarters are back in quarters. The last welcome-home ceremony is expected to take place in November after Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen turns over the command of Task Force Lightning to Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, who heads the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga.





Fifteen members of the Air Force Reserve returned from a deployment to Iraq.


The group is among 25 members of the 624th Regional Support Group, based at Hickam Air Force Base, who were deployed to Iraq four months ago.


The group arrived at Honolulu Airport on a United Airlines flight from Chi-cago at about 2 p.m. yesterday.


One member of the group came in over the weekend, and the rest should be home within the next week, according to a spokeswoman.


The “;Port Dawgs”; handled aerial port operations at Joint Base Balad.


The 624th has units here and on Guam.


Star-Bulletin staff




Caslen will then return to Schofield Barracks to resume command of the 25th Division.

The Bronco Brigade, under the command of Col. Walter Piatt, operated in Salah ad Din province in northern Iraq, working in the key cities of Kirkuk, Tikrit, Bayji, Mosul, Samarra and Balad since October. Six Bronco Brigade soldiers were killed in Iraq during the deployment. Another soldier—Sgt. Miguel A. Vegaquinones—pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the accidental shooting death of Pfc. Sean McCune, 20, at his July court-martial in Tikrit. Vegaquinones, 33, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Bronco soldiers completed 230 projects, including roadwork, 60 school renovations, seven new schools, 52 water projects providing new wells and water treatment facilities, and 11 electricity distribution and infrastructure renovations to hospitals and clinics.

Many of them have been to Iraq before.

Capt. William Ferraro served in Iraq in 2006 with the division's 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry.

“;It was a lot better (this time),”; said Ferraro, 31. “;There was a lot less violence.”;

“;The country is a lot more stable. We could focus on rebuilding things.”;

Master Sgt. Darrell Moore, who had just completed his third Iraqi combat tour, said: “;The relationship between the coalitions forces and the Iraqi forces was a lot better.

“;They are now lot more competent,”; said Moore, 45, pointing out U.S. soldiers now serve as advisers to Iraqi security forces.

Chief Warrant Officer Noel Pastor, a 1987 Waialua High School graduate, was in Iraq when the war began in 2003. “;The living conditions there are now more bearable,”; he said.

This was the brigade's third combat deployment and the second to Iraq. The brigade's first combat deployment was to Afghanistan in 2004. Thirty-six soldiers serving with the 3rd Brigade and other Schofield Barracks units died during its first Iraqi deployment, which began in 2006 and lasted 15 months.

As Schofield Barracks gets reacquainted with its 3rd Brigade, an additional 2,400 soldiers from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade along with its helicopters have been leaving on a third combat tour, joining Caslen's Task Force Lightning in Iraq before the end of next month.