HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – There's no place like home for 2,600 Hawaii soldiers. Members of the 25th Infantry Division's Combat Aviation Brigade reunited with family, friends, and fellow servicemembers at Wheeler Army Airfield after a year long tour of duty in Iraq.
Sergeant Tony Medeiros, a wheel mechanic with the brigade, just finished his first tour in Iraq. "It's nothing like Hawaii. Hot, muggy, cold," Medeiros says, as he remembers what it was like. "When it gets real hot, you can barely touch the tools cause the sun's beating on it."
Medeiros' wife, Amy, says it was a difficult year back home on Oahu, living without her husband. "It's not like, say, your spouse goes to the mainland for a business trip. It's kind of different because they're in a war zone, so you're worried about getting that phone call kind of thing. It was kind of scary."
The soldiers were in charge of supporting all the flight missions in northern Iraq. They did reconnaissance, provided air assaults, flew Iraqi troops around, and lived side-by-side with Iraqi soldiers. Four pilots, either with the 25th ID or attached to the unit, were killed during this last tour of duty.
During the past year, the mission of the brigade began to evolve. As part of President Obama's plan to end combat operations, the soldiers started advising and assisting Iraqis, instead of directing them.
Major General Bernard Champoux, commander of the 25th ID, says, "By the end of their mission, their 12 months in northern Iraq, they actually transitioned into stability operations - where Iraqis really took the lead."
U.S. combat brigades may be redesignated as 'advise and assist', but infantry soldiers in Iraq are still trained for fighting and can still defend themselves.
"Although the security situation's significantly better, they're still in harm's way," says brigade commander Col. Mike Lundy, "and they still have to be prepared for combat operations."
This is just one of the several deployments that continue for Hawaii's soldiers. The 2nd Stryker brigade is currently in northern Iraq, and the 25th Infantry Division headquarters will be moving out there at the end of November.
Schofield's soldiers will be some of the last to leave Iraq. The division headquarters' task will be to draw down the remainder of the troops there.
"So, when we get there, the entire U.S. forces are around 50 thousand, and we'll eventually bring it down to zero by the 31st of December 2011," says MG Champoux.
If all goes as planned, after more than eight years in Iraq, these homecomings, like the latest at Wheeler, will likely come to an end.