Spc. Brandon Chung is greeted by son Zavier after arrival from Iraq yesterday morning at Wheeler Army Air Field. The 263 members of the 25th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team are engineers and communication specialists.

Troops back
on isle soil

25th Infantry Division support troops
return after a year in Kirkuk

It was a year ago yesterday that Sgt. Thomas Nixon boarded a chartered jet for the flight to Iraq and a year of combat duty in Kirkuk.

Yesterday morning, Nixon and 262 other soldiers, who had been supporting the efforts of the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, returned home.

"They are all heroes," proclaimed Kay Springfield, Nixon's mother, shortly after Col. Stan Tunstall, commander of the 45th Corps Support Group, released the formation of soldiers to a crowd of spouses, family members and friends waiting in a Wheeler Army Air Field helicopter hangar.

Sgt. Wendell Reyes, a mechanic with the 125th Signal Battalion, had two surprises waiting for him -- a black 2005 Dodge Ram truck and a 10-month-old daughter, Kalea.

Kalea was born in March and Reyes, a 1997 Pearl City High School graduate, didn't get to see her until she was 5 weeks old when he came home in April on leave.

His other daughter, 2-year-old Kalena, "couldn't wait to for her father to come home," said her mom, Gina Reyes.

Springfield made a special trip from her home in Richmond, Va., to stock her son's rented Ewa Beach home "with groceries, beer and anything else the boys need."

Nixon, a member of Bravo Company of the 125th Signal Battalion, wasn't quite sure what he would do first.

"Hug my mom. Get something to eat. We've been in the air for the past 30 hours," Nixon said.

For Aften Courchene, the return of her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Shane Courchene, promised to be the start of a hectic day since the movers that were supposed to deliver their household goods on Monday were a day late. After her husband left for Iraq on Jan. 19, she placed her household goods in storage and moved to New Jersey to be with her mother.

Shane Courchene said his year in Kirkuk was "an experience."

"I learned a lot," said the eight-year Army veteran. "I learned the value of what life is really about and the importance of family," added Courchene as he cradled his 2 1/2-year-old son, Shane Jr.

He was planning to go to Waimea Bay "to take in the big waves."

His father-in-law, Jardene Serrao, called him the "family hero."

"I am so proud of him," said the Mililani resident.

Courchene's group of well-wishers included his wife's grandmother, several uncles and their wives and nieces and nephews. They carried a large banner which read, "Aloha SFC Courchene. Merry Christmas."

To make up for the missed Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving, their birthdays and the couple's seventh wedding anniversary, Aften Courchene said she plans to hold a large family gathering.

Then Sgt. Courchene plans to take his family to his boyhood home in Montana.

Sgt. Josh Brandt, who worked as a radio operator with the 5th Special Forces Group, said the weather in Iraq was either "really hot in the summer or really, really cold in the winter."

As a member of the 125th Signal Battalion, Brandt said he was fortunate to have access to both phones and the Internet.

"I was able to talk to my family almost every day either by phone or the Internet," Brandt said.

Reyes said his year of combat duty in Kirkuk was fairly routine, although he did get to work on a few trucks that had been attacked by insurgents.

"It was getting up in the morning," Reyes said, "work on some trucks, go to sleep and then do it all over again."

About 10 percent of the more than 5,000 deployed Schofield Barracks soldiers have returned.

The bulk of the Iraq deployment -- the first major overseas assignment for the 25th Division since it was sent to Haiti as peacekeepers in 1994 -- won't be back until March.

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