It’s moving time in Iraq.
That means 3,800 Hawaii soldiers with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team start to leave today for what may be a turn-out-the-lights mission in northern Iraq as the U.S. is proceeding with a big troop drawdown in the country.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said earlier this month that there were 88,000 American troops on the ground. He said he expects the number to be at 50,000 by Sept. 1.
A deployment ceremony was held on Sills Field yesterday as the Schofield unit prepares to head off on what will be an entirely different mission as an "advise and assist" brigade.
Col. Malcolm B. Frost, the Stryker Brigade’s commander, said the U.S. will be a reduced force, but his soldiers will still be on the road, although not as much as on prior deployments.
"We won’t be doing it to the degree that we have in the past, because it’s the Iraqis that are going to be doing the mission," Frost said. "We will advise, assist, we may even support them, but only when they need it and they ask us."
More than 3,000 of the deploying soldiers were arrayed on Sills Field as the Stryker brigade "cased" its blue and red battle flag for the yearlong mission.
A crowd of several thousand family members, friends and fellow soldiers came out in support.
The unit has 332 Stryker vehicles, eight-wheeled armored troop carriers, which already have been shipped to the Middle East.
Maj. Gen. Bernard Champoux, who commands the 25th Division, said the formation of soldiers yesterday was "a public proclamation to this community and to our country that they are prepared and ready to fight our nation’s war."
Frost said the soldiers will be operating in Diyala, Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din provinces north of Baghdad.
Spc. Cean Pemberton, 27, is heading to Iraq for the second time. This time the Sandborn, Ind., man said he will be a radio operator and remain on base rather than going out on missions.
"And I like it that way," his wife, Katie, piped up. "Last time he was a gunner — and that was enough stress. Shot at, blown up. I’m good with him being a radio guy."
The couple pushed their 4-month-old son, Wyatt, in a stroller yesterday.
Cean Pemberton said he experienced two roadside bombs on a 2008 deployment to northern Iraq. He received a concussion with the second.
Capt. Eric Harrison, 31, was at the ceremony with his wife, Sara, and 1-year-old son, Eli, who crawled around barefoot in the grass after the Stryker Brigade’s battle flag was packed away. Harrison, from Rochester, N.Y., has been to Iraq twice before.
"As a wife you much prefer that he deploys during quiet times," Sara Harrison said. "There’s always the initial worry — that will never stop."
The 2nd Brigade has deployed twice before to Iraq.
The Schofield presence in Iraq will increase later this year with the anticipated deployment of about 800 soldiers from the headquarters of the 25th Division. Approximately 2,400 Hawaii soldiers with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, meanwhile, are nearing the end of a deployment to northern Iraq.