Nearly 3,000 Schofield Barracks soldiers with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade are returning from the better part of a year in northern Iraq as part of Task Force Wings, a larger unit with 196 helicopters and other aircraft that chalked up more than 107,000 flight hours.
There are the more personal statistics and details, such as the two young boys ages 3 and 6 that Capt. Don Kirk just returned to 10 months after he deployed from Hawaii.
Being gone for that long really puts into perspective how quickly kids grow and change, Kirk said.
"Just to come back and have conversations with my children is incredible," the 30-year-old company commander said.
Four planeloads of soldiers had returned as of Friday, with three more scheduled over the weekend. Most of the Hawaii soldiers will be back by early August.
Kirk was in the oil-producing city of Kirkuk for most of the deployment, and he was in the air four to five days a week flying "battlefield circulations" and transporting up to 11 people around the region in UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
"It was a pretty calm environment — (but) there was still a real-world enemy threat," Kirk said.
He did not have any aircraft hit or receive any close enemy fire.
"This was the calmest of the three (deployments) I’ve had to Iraq, which is a good thing," Kirk said. He also was deployed to the country in 2004 and 2007.
Kirk got a taste of the greater change that is about to come. During the last two months, he flew on four joint "air assault" missions with Iraqi security forces and Americans.
The U.S. is decreasing its combat forces in Iraq, with a goal to reduce to 50,000 troops by Sept. 1. Soldiers from Hawaii will continue to represent a sizable U.S. presence in the country. In June, 3,800 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team soldiers left for Iraq.
Another 800 Schofield soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division’s headquarters are expected to deploy to Iraq in November for what is expected to be the last chapter of American troop presence in the country. U.S. forces are expected to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
The aviation brigade suffered losses in the death of two pilots when their OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter crashed on Nov. 8 in Tikrit.
Killed were Chief Warrant Officer Mathew C. Heffelfinger, 29, of Kimberly, Idaho, and Chief Warrant Officer Earl R. Scott III, 24, of Jacksonville, Fla. The aviators were assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment.