ON A C-17 (HawaiiNewsNow) - This past week, we accompanied soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division headquarters as they returned home from a year in Iraq. While aboard the C-17, we had the chance to talk, one-on-one, with the commander of the 25th ID.
We were given "all access" to Major General Bernard Champoux, and he answered questions that ran the gamut from his emotions upon leaving - to what he believes will happen next in Iraq - to his overall impressions of the war.
"Maybe this hasn't stayed in the forefront of most Americans' consciousness, but for us, the last eight and a half years, either deployed there or redeployed from there or got ready to go or known someone who's been there so it's been a huge effort for us, an enormous effort over time, and we feel as though we completed it with dignity and pride," he says.
MG Champoux spent the last year in Iraq - heading up command and control of the U.S. withdrawal. Under his leadership, the 25th ID headquarters closed down the last three dozen American bases and moved out all military personnel and property. It was a huge honor for Tropic Lightning to be the last division headquarters there - as a friend reminded the general.
"General Weyand brought the division into Vietnam and now, you're going to bring the last division that served in Iraq, you're going to bring the 25th infantry division home out of Iraq," the General recalled his friend saying. "And you know, maybe for some, it's a small footnote, but on the history of this division, a huge footnote, and we're just really proud to be able to do that."
Champoux says he's more encouraged after working with Iraqis than discouraged, but this will be a critical time for them. He hopes they'll build on the momentum. He explains, "Our effort has been about creating opportunities for them, and now, it's their opportunity."
The MG will be leaving his position next spring and is filled with gratitude for the soldiers he's served with these past couple of years. "I am so proud to command this division, to wear this patch. To know that, everyday, we have Americans somewhere that wear this patch that do, just the hardest things that you can imagine."
There are less than 200 troops in Iraq now, and they're working as advisors with the state department. While our combat troops are now out of Iraq, 3,500 soldiers from the 25th's third brigade are still in the Middle East - serving in Afghanistan.