30 from Schofield get send-off
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
About 30 Schofield Barracks soldiers heading for the Middle East received a rousing send-off from fellow unit members and commanders last night.
As each name was read over a loudspeaker, the soldier being deployed stood and was cheered by his or her unit. The group will leave over the next several days.
"I'm proud to know these fine soldiers," said Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division (Light).
"Many have volunteered for this deployment and are prepared for possible future operations."
Sgt. Kristian Yochum, 22, a combat engineer with the 65th Engineer Battalion who graduated from Wai'anae High School in 1998, didn't expect to be deployed to the Middle East.
Yochum re-enlisted in September 2001 and chose Hawai'i as a duty station to be closer to his family.
"It (the deployment) did come as a surprise," Yochum said.
"I didn't think coming here, I would deploy, just because of the region (the Pacific) that we support."
Yochum, on his first deployment, said he's not worried about possibly going into a war zone. Combat engineers work on construction-related projects and with demolition and mines.
"I'm going with a great group of guys," he said. "They pretty much hand-picked everyone.... You're a good soldier, you're going."
The 25th Division has about 50 soldiers in Afghanistan and Qatar. Defense analysts have said that most of the division is being kept in Hawai'i for a Korean contingency.
Spc. James Velazquez, 23, a combat engineer, said he is "very nervous" because it's also his first deployment.
The 1997 'Aiea High School graduate said, "Hopefully, it (a war) is not too prolonged."
Velazquez said the job of his unit is to maneuver with front-lines elements, "but we're only there if they need us say, to clear away obstacles."
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Graham Vockroth, a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot who served as a medevac pilot during the 1991 Gulf War, said he is looking forward to the deployment.
Vockroth, 42, said the thought of possible use of chemical or biological weapons in a war in Iraq doesn't have him overly worried.
"We did it before in Desert Storm. It's basically the same stuff, so it's not too bad," he said.
Reach William Cole at email@example.com or 525-5459.