Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Schofield soldiers embrace life following Iraq mission

The brigade lost five members during its yearlong deployment to three provinces

By Dan Nakaso


Kate Parker held a handmade sign in the shape of a pink heart over her head with the words "Here I Am" to welcome her newlywed husband and 134 other soldiers returning home Sunday from a year's deployment to Iraq.

The sign was unnecessary because Parker immediately ran up to her husband, 1st Lt. Matthew Parker, after the brief homecoming ceremony at Wheeler Army Airfield's multifunctional deployment facility.

"It's a little bit overwhelming," the lieutenant said, "but it's good."

The soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, were deployed in June 2010 as part of Operation New Dawn and served in Diyala, Salah ad Din and Kirkuk provinces, covering an area of 19,900 square miles.

The brigade lost five soldiers during its deployment. Fourteen armored Stryker vehicles out of 339 were damaged.

And while Kate and Matthew Parker of Illinois were briefed separately about the possibility of tension following the deployment, Sunday's homecoming was a time to celebrate.

"She looks real good," Parker said after getting yet another hug and a kiss from his wife of one year and nine weeks.

"Thanks, babe," Kate replied.

Most of the soldiers have yet to receive orders, giving them weeks and possibly months to enjoy the islands while still serving in the Army.

First Lt. Jonathan Stockwell of Crowley, Texas, was anxious to leave Wheeler with his wife, Katherine, and their 6-month-old son, Ian, who was born on Christmas.

But Stockwell had no specific, immediate plans — "go to the beach, relax," he said.

The 2nd Brigade comprises about 4,800 soldiers.

One Schofield unit, the 25th Infantry Division Headquarters Battalion, is still in Iraq.

The brigade's Stryker vehicles will be refurbished at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. Different Strykers will be sent to Hawaii in August and issued to the Hawaii-based soldiers in September, the Army said.

Most of the soldiers returning home on Sunday were on their second and third deployments, said Maj. David Bolender.

For the Parkers, who were college sweethearts, the one-year deployment to Iraq was their first time apart after just nine weeks of marriage.

Seeing one another via Skype was unreliable, Kate said.

And Parker, a platoon leader, was able to make only two phone calls. The last call — five days before his return — had the message, "I'm coming home."

"I don't know how anyone can prepare you for what it's like when your partner is not around," Kate said. "It sucked."

But veteran Army couple Sgt. Harry Rodriguez and his wife, Maritza, of Puerto Rico, already had plans to celebrate their reunion.

"We're going on vacation to Maui," Maritza said.

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