As the gradual drawdown in Afghanistan continues, the latest Hawaii troops to return from war unveiled their brigade colors Friday. It signifies the official end to their year-long mission.
After a year in some of the most rugged, dangerous terrain in Afghanistan, a little R&R in Hawaii is much deserved. 3,000 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division's Third Brigade Combat Team had their official welcome home.
The parade field at Schofield Barracks is a far cry from the battlefields of eastern Afghanistan. During their year in some of the deadliest Afghan provinces, soldiers from the Bronco Brigade of the 25th ID saw plenty of action.
"A very small group can create an insurgency," says LTC Craig Wagoner. "It's easy to create chaos. It's difficult to create a government and stability."
Their mission, on at least one occasion, was to clear a suspected Taliban training camp. Insurgents responded with heavy fire. But that was then ... this is now.
The 3BCT has been back in Hawaii since Easter, but this was ceremony marked the end of the mission. The biggest applause came when the unit's wounded warriors made their way to the field. The brigade's work has come full circle, and soldiers feel confident they left Afghan troops trained and ready. "Which is quite a change from the past which is what gives me optimism," says the 3BCT commander, Col. Richard Kim. "They're doing very well against the enemy."
Col Kim now calls them brothers-in-arms with their counterparts a world away, but it took a lot of time to build up trust. SGM Christopher Prosser adds, "We lived with them. We ate with them. We patrolled with them, so once you are doing that, you understand that person, not just: it's an Afghan."
Hawaii still has thousands of troops stationed in Afghanistan. 2,000 soldiers from the 25th's Combat Aviation Brigade are there until February, and 1,200 Kaneohe-based marines are deployed through this summer and fall.
Now back at home, the adjustment period continues for these soldiers - as hardened men of war turn to mush with Daddy's little girls in their arms.