300 Schofield soldiers heading for Iraq
By Brittany Yap
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brittany Yap
Combat veterans and first-timers alike were among 300 Schofield Barracks soldiers yesterday who took off from Hickam Air Force Base for a yearlong deployment to northern Iraq.
Eventually, 7,000 soldiers will make up the single largest contingent from Schofield to fight in the Iraq war.
The soldiers will be stationed in an area that includes Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. It also includes the area where insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed.
Army Sgt. Joseph Stern, who left for his third deployment to Iraq yesterday, said he didn't have any advice for first-timers. But, he said, "When the first bullet goes by the head, (their training) will kick in like instinct."
The first time Stern was in Iraq, he was with the Marines and stationed in Mosul. In one incident, he said, a bullet sailed between him and a friend who was standing a foot away, barely missing his head.
He later earned a Purple Heart when a rocket-propelled grenade hit a wall in front of him.
"I got shrapnel," Stern said, pointing to a horizontal scar on the right side of his mouth. "That (Purple Heart) is an award you don't usually want."
Stern knows what to expect. The father of five said yesterday he was calm and mellow.
He's been through it before: the 26-hour flight, the few weeks of training in Kuwait before heading to Iraq.
But Pfc. Christopher Jackson, 22, and Pfc. Brian Foster, 27, are among the nearly two-thirds of Schofield soldiers who'll be making their first deployment to the combat zone.
"I'm just ready to go, do my job, and get back here," Jackson said yesterday. "All you can do is count on the guy next to you to do his job."
Jackson, who has been in the Army for a year, said he knows when he gets to Iraq it will "be a shock" but said he just needs to "stay positive."
Foster, a father of two, keeps a picture of his children in his pocket next to his heart.
"It helps," Foster said.
During his last phone call to his kids he told them, "I love you, I'll be back."
The Schofield soldiers' main goal in Iraq is to train Iraqi forces, said Public Affairs Officer Kendrick Washington.
"The mission isn't really for us," said Lt. Col. Drew Meyerowich, commander of the 2-27 Infantry Regiment. "We're there to help the Iraqi government continue to evolve as a military organization."
During another deployment, the unit was in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan, on the Pakistan border, said Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. David Yates. He thinks the biggest difference between the Paktika Province and the region of northern Iraq is the population.
"It was a rural population in Afghanistan," Yates said. "Now it's going to be more built-up areas."
Stern thinks this deployment will be more difficult.
"This time it's going to be harder," Stern said. "The first time, there weren't any (improvised explosive devices) and roadside bombs."
He also said that during his first deployment as a Marine, he knew who the enemy was.
"Now, we don't know who is who," he said.
The Hawai'i-based soldiers are replacing part of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which assumed responsibility for the region on Nov. 1.
Yesterday's troop departure is among the last of this deployment.
"About 70 percent have already left," said Public Affairs Officer Donna Klapakis. "The rest of (the soldiers) will leave within the next couple days."
Reach Brittany Yap at email@example.com.