Saturday, October 31, 2009



Now that the 3rd Brigade has deployed back to Iraq for their 4th Tour, theyll begin their new mission of Advising and Assisting Iraqi Security Forces, empowering them to take control of their own country. Our Ron Andruss spent some time with the Sledgehammers newly created Security Transition Teams before they left and shows us how they prepared for this new mission.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Commander News from Kuwait

Hello to all Blackhawk Families,

Every two weeks I am going to try to send CPT Barth and Mrs. Bush a note to post on the vFRG Website and send out in email through the FRG channels to keep families updated on what we are doing here in Theater. It has been two weeks since our main body flights have departed from Fort Benning to Kuwait. Over these past two weeks, Major Ryan Howell, the Executive Officer and CSM Alan Hummel, the Squadron Command Sergeant Major have been over watching training and equipment downloading in Kuwait while the troop commanders and I have been up in Iraq conducting leaders training.

The majority of the troopers will continue to train in Kuwait through the end of the month, while some have already moved north to begin to coordinate with the unit that we are relieving in Iraq. Training has ranged from learning how to safely exit a rolled over vehicle (which is conducted in some great simulators), to ensuring our rifles our zeroed, to sitting through a variety of classes to give us better insight into issues we will encounter over the next year. We have also conducted some very realistic platoon and section level lanes in which the platoon stay overnight in the field for one or two days while they train with blank and live ammunition. In the next few days, C Troop will conduct one of these overnight training sessions and the mortar sections across the squadron will fire their 120mm tubes to ensure that they are in good working condition. Overall the squadron had stayed active and engaged in work and training, and the majority of soldier’s agree that the training has been excellent. The troops have done extremely well and continue to impress the instructors here in Kuwait who continually heap praise up on them for their discipline and competence. You should be proud of them!

Morale is high, and although all soldiers miss their families they appear to be coping well with the separation. For some of these young men and women, this is the first time in a foreign country and an eye opening experience. Our greatest risk at this time is really the risk of a vehicle accident and soldiers being despondent because of the separation from their families. We have been mitigating risk here with our composite risk assessments and controls to reduce risks. I urge you to do the same in your daily routine back at home. When possible avoid being out late at night or driving long distances in bad weather. Most accidents happen during these times and even going to a grocery store in a well lit, safe neighborhood at night, is a greater risk than going during the day. Please look at the risks to you and your family in your daily routine and see how you can reduce them, it is important during the deployment for your spouse to know that you are safe and it is a good lifetime practice. Please advise the rear detachment leadership if you think that your soldier is having an unusual amount of trouble handling the stresses of the deployment so that we can engage him or her quickly to assess the situation.

CPT Mike Barth and Mrs. Bush have done a great job with the rear detachment, FRGs and keeping everyone informed. My next note will be from Iraq and I will concentrate on describing the quality of life throughout our area that we will be operating. I also want to pitch our Facebook page where CPT Chris Aiello continues to post pictures that he receives from the troops. It is a good way to stay in touch and see what we are up to. Finally I hope that every trooper has been emailing or calling his family at least weekly. There are plenty of AT&T calling stations here and internet access. With all of the training they may not have time to touch base every day, but there is not reason why they cannot email several times a week and call at least weekly.

Until the next note, CSM Alan Hummel and I wish you the best of luck and good health. Families are doing a fantastic job banding together and helping each other out and we appreciate the effort on everyone’s part to make the deployment easier for everyone involved. 2 weeks down and only 50 to go, it sounds like a lot now, but it will go fast. These first 90 days are the hardest for the families and the soldiers, please continue to persevere and know that things get easier for all parties as we move past the first three months. We appreciate everyone doing their part to win this fight so that our children do not have to make the same sacrifices that their parents are making today. Thank you for being part of something much bigger than ourselves, stay focused on why we are doing this, you are all heroes. As always Stay Courageous and Faithful!

Warm Regards
LTC Chris Kennedy
Commander, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

3rd HBCT Soldiers Make Their Mark in Kuwait

Story and photos by Sgt. Ben Hutto, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – The temperature outside is climbing into the mid-nineties as Sgt. John Direny, a water treatment specialist assigned to Company A, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, meticulously paints the small letters on the mural he is crafting. The mural, painted on one of the hundreds of concrete road barriers that dot Camp Buehring, has been a two day project so far and he still has a long way to go.

“It takes time to get it right,” he explains. “I had someone to help me paint the Marne patches the first day, but the rest I’ve done on my own.”

A few barriers down, Sgt. TJ Forbes and Pfc. Skylar Humburd, both assigned to Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, work on their own mural for their Squadron. Around the corner, two more Soldiers, Sgt. Mario Benjamin III, an MP assigned to the 317th Military Police Battalion, and Pfc. Joe Sudik, an infantryman assigned to Headquarters’ Troop, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, are painting the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s mural.
Countless murals like these decorate the 8 foot barriers that surround and protect the roads, living pads and buildings on Camp Buehring. For the Sledgehammer Soldiers working on their unit’s mural, the chance to add to this collection is an opportunity to add to their unit’s reputation and history.

“It is very important that we let the Soldiers that follow us know that we were here,” said Direny. “We got ready to go to war just like them. When they see this, hopefully, they will see that we did our best to represent our unit, the brigade and the 3rd Infantry Division.”

Forbes has deployed with the 3rd HBCT three times and each time he has painted one of these murals for his unit. During his current trip to Buehring, he checked to see how his last mural was holding up against a year and a half of sun, sand and wind.

“It’s still there,” he said. “It still looks good, in my opinion.”
Forbes understands that the mural represents more than his artistic ability on display.

“It’s about unit pride and building up morale,” he said. “I imagine a few of our new scouts saw the old one and realized that they are part of a unit that has done this before. Hopefully, that makes them walk a little taller and prouder.”

He also considers an important part of his unit’s up-coming deployment.
“You have to believe in what you are doing and the unit you are a part of,” he said. “How you view your unit is also the way you view the Army as a whole. We want Soldiers that take pride in who they are, what they are doing and the group they are a part of. I think this is a part of that.”
Pfc. Skylar Humburd, a scout assigned to Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, works on his battalion’s mural at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 23. The project will take him and his partner, Sgt. TJ Forbes, four days to complete, but both Soldiers say they want to leave future 3-1 Cav. Regt. Soldiers something to take pride in.

Sgt. John Direny, a water treatment specialist assigned to Company A, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, adds more paint to his detailing brush at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 23. Direny is one of several Soldiers that are painting murals on the base’s concrete road barriers to show unit pride.

Sgt. John Direny, a water treatment specialist assigned to Company A, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, details his unit’s mural at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 23. Direny is one of several Soldiers that are painting murals on the base’s concrete road barriers to leave an artistic footprint of his unit’s time there.

Pfc. Joe Sudik, an infantryman assigned to Headquarters’ Troop, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, works on the brigade’s mural at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 23. The project takes about four days to complete and requires Sudik to work out in the heat and sand for hours at a time.

Pfc. Joe Sudik, an infantryman assigned to Headquarters’ Troop, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, adds color the brigade’s mural at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 23. Sudik spent several days getting the supplies for the project and will require several more days to finish the mural.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

3rd HBCT Soldiers Kick Off Deployment

Running across a news story that includes a quote or photo of a loved one is like winning the lottery! I know it sounds strange but it makes you feel a little gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling!
Story by Staff Sgt. Natalie Hedrick, 3rd HBCT, 3rd ID, Public Affairs

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – When Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division waved “goodbye” to their loved ones and climbed on the bus that took them to the plane to haul them overseas, they were not going to Iraq. Not just yet.

After almost 48 hours, Sledgehammer Soldiers stepped off the plane in Ali Al Salem in Kuwait City. This time without the fanfare, they loaded another bus headed for the first leg of their deployment; Camp Buehring.

Over the three weeks to follow, 3rd HBCT Soldiers conducted a series of training events while getting acclimated to the dry heat and time zone change of the Middle East.

For Spc. Cathlynn Shagonaby, a Grand Rapids, Mich. native serving in Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, four days was all it took to adapt to the changes.

“I think the month we spent at (the National Training Center) helped weather wise,” she said. “To get used to the time I just tried to stay up until it was time to go to sleep Kuwait time.”

The training schedule allowed little flexibility for Soldiers to have trouble acclimating. Troops hit the ground running, training, in some cases, from morning to night on various events. Medical simulation, vehicle roll-over simulation, and counter improvised explosive device awareness, were a few amongst the extensive list of classes available to brigade Soldiers and leaders alike.

“Much of this training here is meant to protect the Soldier,” explained Capt. Nicholas James, assistant operations officer for the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment. “The training is based on problems we’ve seen. A lot of Soldiers are killed from IEDs and vehicle roll-overs. It’s important to look out for Soldier’s safety.”

Camp Buehring is the final time the 3rd HBCT as a whole will train before moving north into Iraq. Soldiers spent 30 days training at Fort Benning during Hammer Focus and then another 30 days at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif.

“The training in Kuwait offers different tastes than NTC hence more variety,” said 3rd HBCT Command Sgt. Maj. James Pearson. “Where previous training events we were focusing heavily on the brigade as a whole, in Kuwait, we are able to get individual and platoon level training.”

The current 2009 training at Camp Buehring is Pearson’s third with the brigade. He said he has always been impressed and rates the training first class.

“The training incorporates the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures from Iraq,” he said. “We will be better prepared as a result.”

Pearson said the 3rd HBCT Soldiers will spend the next approximately 365 days advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces so they will be able to secure Iraq with minimal outside help.
James is certain training will continue in conjunction with the accomplishment of the mission during the unit’s deployment to southern Iraq.
Soldiers of Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, provide security to their convoy during mounted patrol training in a mock village, Oct. 20 outside Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Local roll players were used to simulate Iraqi Army counterparts and local civilians on the battlefield. (photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Hedrick, Company A, 1-15 Inf. Regt.)

Soldiers of Company G, 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, attached to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, conduct convoy training Oct. 20 at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Much of the training performed at Camp Buehring was designed to teach Soldiers the proper techniques during hazardous conditions they might face in Iraq. (courtesy photo, Company G, 203rd BSB)

Soldiers of Company E, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, conduct route clearance training Oct. 18 at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. The engineer company trained using their route clearance specific vehicle, the Buffalo. (courtesy photo, Company E, 1-15 Inf. Regt.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bed TIme Stories From Half A World Away

Story and photos by Sgt. Ben Hutto, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Mercedes Figueroa has nighttime ritual every night before she goes to sleep at her home in Phenix City, Ala. Every night before she goes to sleep her father, Staff Sgt. Freddie Figueroa, reads her at least three books.

“She loves to be read to,” said Staff Sgt. Figueroa. “It’s something that is really special for both of us.”

Figueroa’s recent deployment to Iraq with the rest of his fellow Soldiers in Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment will delay story time for the next year, but a program offered by the USO at Camp Buehring will allow the father and daughter to stay connected.

The United Through Reading program allows deployed service members to record themselves reading a book to their children and then mails the recording and the book back home to the serviceman’s family for free.

“This is a great program and the books really become family heirlooms,” said Malcolm Marson, a duty manager at Camp Buehring’s USO. “I try to relax the Soldiers and tell them to imagine that they are in their living rooms with their family sitting there with them. You see some really hard boiled guys come here with scowls on their faces and leave with the biggest grins.”

The program focuses on giving Soldier’s families a visual interactive form of communication said Marson.

“It’s much more in-depth than a phone call because a child can see their parent and actually hold the same book their parent was holding,” he said. “They can replay that DVD as many times as they want to. It just doesn’t end when the phone hangs up.”

Soldiers from every battalion in the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team have taken advantage of the program. As their time at Camp Buehring begins to shorten and their movement to Iraq is set to begin, Soldiers are trying to get into multiple sessions to tide their children over until they can come home and read to them personally.

“I have five children and I’m trying to make sure they all have a book,” said Spc. Jeremy Bills, a Soldier in Company D, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment. “I’m reading everything from Dr. Seuss to Harry Potter to make sure all my kids have a book. It means I’ll be up here at least five nights to get it in, but it is worth it.”

Both Figueroa’s and Bills’ wives are reading to their children in their husband’s absence.
“Hopefully, this can give her a break for a night,” said Bills. “I’m hoping to surprise her with these books coming in the mail. Having a large family with me away from home is tough, but anything I can do to help her is a big deal for me.”

Figueroa thinks by sending these books home, he is letting his wife and daughter know he is still thinking about them.

“Things like this help you take care of home,” he said. “If home is taken care of, you can focus on your mission. I know my wife and daughter know that I love them, but it never hurts to do something to let them know that you are still thinking about them.”

Malcolm Marson, a duty manager at the USO at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, tells gathered Soldiers how to fill out their custom forms and envelopes to participate in the United Through Reading Program, Oct. 17. The program allows deployed servicemen to read books to their children and have the book and a recording of the reading sent home at no cost to the servicemen or his family.

Cpl. David Clukey, a Soldier in Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, reads a book to his family as a camera records everything at the USO at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 17. The United Through Reading program allows Soldiers to give their children a visual and interactive way to connect with their departed parent during a deployment.

Staff Sgt. Freddie Figueroa, a Soldier in Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, fills out an envelope to mail his daughter a book and a recording of him reading at the USO at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 17. The United Through Reading program allows Soldiers to send their children books and DVDs of them reading it free of charge.
Cpl. David Clukey, a Soldier in Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, reads a book to wife and child as a camera records at the USO at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 17. Clukey is one of several 3rd HBCT Soldiers that have participated in the United Through Reading program during the 3rd HBCT’s stay in Kuwait.

Cpl. David Clukey, a Soldier in Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, reads a book to his family as a camera records everything at the USO at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 17. The United Through Reading program allows Soldiers to give their children a visual and interactive way to connect with their departed parent during a deployment.

Grab the Popcorn...

Here are a few videos that were shared with me this morning. It is always good to be able to see what our guys are doing. Enjoy!

'Sledgehammer' Brigade Trains for Pending Deployment

Live Fire 3rd Brigade Deploys Equipment

3rd Brigade rolls out again

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thanks, Applebees

It would be nice to see more businesses show their appreciation to our men and women in uniform. Hats off to Applebees! Remember their generosity to our military when you are trying to figure out where to go eat next.

Veterans and Active Duty Military eat free Memorial Day, Wednesday, November 11th at Applebees. Simply show proof of service.

Valid Veteran and Active Duty Identification to Obtain Free Entree:
U.S. Uniform Services Identification Card
U.S. Uniform Services Retired Identification Card
Current Leave and Earnings Statement (LES)
Veterans Organization Card (i.e., American Legion and VFW)
Photograph in uniform

Select one of the following signature entrees:
Three-Cheese Chicken Penne
Fire Pit Bacon Burger
Fiesta Lime Chicken
Chicken Tenders Platter
7 oz. House Sirloin
Oriental Chicken Salad

Scarlet Ending Performs For Troops in Kuwait

Photos by Sgt. Ben Hutto, 3rd HBCT Public Affair

Scarlet Ending performed for the troops at Camp Buehring Kuwait, Oct. 14. The show was one of the bands last performances on their Middle East tour.

Jon Tedd, the lead guitarist for Scarlet Ending, performs for the troops at Camp Buehring Kuwait, Oct. 14. The show was one of the bands last performances on their Middle East tour. “It was an awesome experience to be able to perform for our men and women serving over here,” he said.

The rock band, Scarlet Ending, rocks out for the troops at Camp Buehring Kuwait, Oct. 14. Newly arrived Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, took time out from their training to enjoy the music.

Kaleena Goldsworthey, the lead singer and pianist for the rock band, Scarlet Ending, takes a break from her traditional keyboard during a performance at Camp Buehring Kuwait, Oct. 14. Many Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, were in attendance and enjoyed the band’s effort.

Members of the band Scarlet Ending, Kaleena Goldsworthey (left), Kayleigh Goldsworthey (middle) and Jon Tedd perform the Tom Petty song, “Free Falling” during a show at Camp Buehring Kuwait, Oct. 14. Many Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, were in attendance and cheered the band on as they sang their favorite songs.

Sisters Kaleena (left) and Kayleigh Goldsworthey (middle) check out Company E, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment’s Staff Sgt. Vince Oliver’s, tattoos during an autograph signing at Camp Buehring Kuwait, Oct. 14. Earlier that evening, the Goldsworthey’s band, Scarlet Ending, performed for the troops at the base.

Spc. Sean Dewberry, a Soldier assigned to Company E, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, gets autographs from members of the rock band, Scarlet Ending, following a show at Camp Buehring Kuwait, Oct. 14. Dewberry and some of his fellow Soldiers in the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division took time out of their busy training schedule to listen to the band’s performance.

Spc. Sean Bren Sherwood, a Soldier assigned to Company E, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, gets autographs from members of the rock band, Scarlet Ending, following a show at Camp Buehring Kuwait, Oct. 14. Dewberry and some of his fellow Soldiers in the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division took time out of their busy training schedule to listen to the band’s performance.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Port Operations Keep 3rd HBCT Moving

Story by Capt. Charles Barrett, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs

Camp Buehring, Kuwait – Offloading nearly 650 vehicles and pieces of military equipment from a cargo ship is easier said than done for the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

Capt. Kenna Trice-James is the movement officer for the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion and the officer in charge of ensuring the equipment is offloaded from the ship properly, and that no Soldier gets hurt in the process.

“Safety is 100%. No incidents. No accidents,” James said.

The most critical part of the operation is accountability of equipment, according to James. All the serial and tracking numbers must match exactly, and if just one item comes up unaccounted for it could mean a big delay in operations.

It took a team of approximately 60 Soldiers and 20 hours to download all the vehicles and equipment.

Before a vehicle can move there must be three ground guides. In addition, all personnel must wear their helmet, and eye protection during operations and have water on them at all times.
After the initial download Soldiers begin work in shifts, and get between seven and eight hours of sleep a day. James said if someone needs time off, she ensures they get it.

Approximately 70 tracked vehicles were offloaded from the ship along with other the vehicles used by the 3rd HBCT. In addition to the vehicles, large pieces of equipment such as MILVANs, large metal containers used to transport equipment necessary for the unit’s mission, are also unloaded and readied for transport.

“Vehicles must be fully mission-capable before they can leave, and the equipment must be fitted to the unit’s mission,” James said.

Once ready, vehicles and equipment need to be transported over land to their follow on destination. James said it is important to remain flexible during this phase of the mission, and allow up to two weeks for its accomplishment. A lot of last minute changes can occur, and the unit has to allow itself enough time to reschedule major movements in the operation.

To ensure she was ready, James attended meetings twice a week for four months prior to the actual download of equipment at the Kuwaiti port.

In addition, several reconnaissance missions to the port were conducted to allow everyone involved a chance to rehearse their part of the operation. Drivers also conducted reconnaissance missions of the routes they would be taking in order to get the equipment to its next destination.

According to James, planning is extremely important. Without it, the operations would not have run as smoothly as they have.

Equipment is critical to mission success and no one understands that better than James. She tells her Soldiers, “Remain flexible, and stay positive.”

Where Is Camp Buehring?

Commentary by Capt. Charles Barrett, 3rd HBCT, 3rd ID

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – If you know someone who’s in the Army, and has deployed to Iraq, then there’s a chance you’ve heard of a place called Camp Buehring. Most Army units pass through the camp on their way north, steadfast and loyal to their cause, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

For those of you who have never been there, I’m reminded of a time many years ago when I first visited Las Vegas, NV. Our family had been driving into the night on just another day of our vacation west. It was as dark as any night in the desert and quiet too; nothing but the hum of our minivan’s tires on the road. Then out of the blackness was a faint light in the distance with the warm glow of something unknown. As we approached closer the light became brighter. The blur of one light became two, and two became three and so on until we were close enough to see buildings. The sounds of the city were muted until we were right on top of it. All the stores were open, and people were everywhere carrying out different phases of their individual day; some who had just woken up, some who had just gotten off of work, and some who had just finished spending the last eight uncomfortable hours on a bus from the Kuwaiti Airport.

I snap back to reality; no alcohol, no gambling, and certainly not to the scale of Las Vegas, but Camp Buehring’s sights and sounds are not entirely unlike those of Sin City.
Camp Buehring is located in the desert in Kuwait; to be more precise, I’d say somewhere in the middle. There’s sand and rock and moon dust. Moon dust is like baby powder that floats through the breeze generated by passing vehicles. A Soldier’s walking path is often determined by the direction the wind is blowing so as to not be caught in a moon dust cloud. There’s also no shortage of sunshine.

We arrive at midnight and we are ushered into a tent to receive mandatory briefings on various rules and regulations; things we may not have known or had forgotten about since our last trip here. An hour passes and before we know it we’re back outside standing around a truck watching a handful of guys unload duffle bags and ruck sacks while each person on the sidelines is trying to find theirs without getting in the way. To each our own as we shuffle off to our tents to claim our cots.

Capt. Matt McFarland points me in the direction of the dining facility, and along with a couple other Sledgehammer Soldiers I head to chow. Its sometime after 1:30 a.m. and there’s a line, but the food and the company make up for the wait. I could just as easily been finishing up a losing streak at the craps table in a casino and called it quits while I still had enough money for the buffet.

I set my alarm early hoping to get a jump on the next day, but I wake up in the afternoon. I blame it on jet lag and drive on. Every morning at 6 a.m. the camp stops what they are doing while the flag is raised. Afterwards, music that I can’t think of the name of is played over the loud speakers. It’s the theme music from the movie Patton. I smile as I hum along to the tune, blissfully unaware I’ll be singing it in my head for the rest of the day. Then I remember it’s also the theme music to the movie Police Academy and I no longer know if I should be happy or sad.
Over the next two weeks Soldiers prepare equipment, complete mandatory training, and plan future operations. When not conducting a training mission Soldiers can be found at the gym, or the volley ball court, or the basketball court. There’s a chapel, and a movie theater with popcorn. No, the chapel doesn’t have popcorn, but I’m sure it’s been suggested. There’s a USO with computers and a Café. You know the café is good because it has that little mark over the letter “e.” Soldiers are gaming on XBOX, Play Station and Wii. There are phone banks and board games and a place where parents can read to their kids and have the DVD mailed home. There’s a big PX and a little one, a post office, and a finance center. There’s a stage for concerts, a Baskin Robins and a Starbucks coffee that, yes, has WiFi. I almost forgot to mention the alterations shop and the gift shop, the barber shop and the jewelry shop; sorry guys.

The downside to all this, you ask? That’s right, there’s no pool. What we do have, however, are long blistering walks, cots with no mercy, and the ever present, ever malodorous porta-potties. It’s late October and we’ve probably been averaging around 99 degrees, but at least there’s no humidity, right?

More importantly, however, we can’t share this time with our families. Sure the communications are better, but it’s not the same. While you’re waiting in line for a phone you can hear, “I miss you,” and “I love you,” from the Soldier in front of you knowing that you’ll be saying the same thing just as soon as your turn comes around.
Camp Buehring may not be all the sights and sounds of Las Vegas, but it’s where the Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division will call home for two or three weeks. I’m sure if Chris Angel were here he’d mind freak us all by making a swimming pool appear and turning moon dust into water.

Anyway, I believe I speak for the rest of the Sledgehammer Soldiers when I say that we are all really looking forward to getting into Iraq, getting this mission successfully accomplished, and coming home safe. Until next time, these have been my Observations from The Hill: Iraq Edition.

Friday, October 16, 2009

3rd HBCT Leaves For Fourth Iraq Rotation

By Vince Little / The Bayonet

The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s main body left for Iraq over the Columbus Day holiday weekend in a wave of departures that began Oct. 7 and ended Monday.
The unit that led the drive into Baghdad in March 2003 is now the first Army brigade with four deployments to Iraq.

In the next year, Sledgehammer Brigade will have 3,600 Soldiers spread across five Iraqi provinces, said CPT Charles Barrett, a 3rd HBCT spokesman. Counting individual augmentees, its representation will total about 4,000 in country.

Each morning, family and friends gathered outside Kelley Hill Recreation Center to bid farewell before the Soldiers boarded buses bound for Lawson Army Airfield and a flight to Kuwait.
SPC David Cubillos, 23, was part of the group that departed Monday. He’s making his second Iraq deployment but said this one has a much more somber feel — as he was single last time.

“It’s a really difficult experience for me this time,” Cubillos said. “I didn’t think I was going to get this emotional. The first time was no problem, but I had no responsibilities or family to worry about.”

His wife, Amanda, who’s stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., will deploy to Iraq in December with the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade. The couple is leaving daughter Carlysa, who turned 1 on Saturday, behind with Amanda’s parents.

“It’s going to be really hard on our daughter for both of us to be gone. We’re worried she’s going to forget us,” Cubillos said. “We’ll do a lot of webcam, e-mails and send photos — so hopefully, she’ll see us every day and recognize us when we come home.”

2LT James Delongchamp, 28, a chemical officer for 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, was gearing up for his first deployment. Earlier Monday, he said goodbye to his wife, Jennifer, and their two children — daughter Ashlyn, 5, and 3-year-old son Jackson.

“It’s pretty rough. We’ve separated for training, but never for this long,” he said. “There’s not really any way you can prepare for it emotionally.”

SGT Chad Vanderhoof was joined at the send-off by his wife, Christie, who cradled their 6-month-old son, Charlie. The baby makes leaving even more difficult, Vanderhoof said.

“Just the fact (I’m) not going to be there to hear his first word, or see that first step,” he said.
Christie said she’s been through two of her husband’s three deployments.

“It’s hard, but when you’re an Army spouse, this is what you face,” she said. “I want to make sure he’s OK with what he’s facing, and knows we’ll be OK here.”

Vanderhoof said the separation never gets easier but he was trying to keep a clear mind and focus on mission outcome.

“You never know what kind of adversity you’ll face,” he said. “The enemy is always adapting to our techniques.”

While the brigade assumes an advise-and-assist role with Iraqi security forces, Delongchamp said it’s vital to maintain diligence.

“All you have is your fellow Soldiers over there, your brothers and sisters,” he said. “You just talk to each other and motivate each other to do the right thing (and) don’t ever get complacent … Help each other out, and we all go home together.”

Delongchamp said he tried to gain insight from other unit members who have gone on multiple tours to Iraq, but he’s not sure what to expect in the desert.

“I know what people have told me, but obviously you don’t really know how it’s going to be until you go through it yourself,” he said.

Saying Goodbye is Never Easy For Military Families

Bt Stefanie Tiso,
Story Updated: Oct 10, 2009 at 7:35 AM CDT

Nearly half of the 3rd Brigade is on its way to Iraq. About 400 soldiers flew out today from Lawson Army Airfield. But first came an emotional goodbye on Kelley Hill. For many of the soldiers and their families, these farewells have become all too common.

As 200 soldiers boarded five buses to Lawson Army Airfield, families waved, yelled “I love yous,” and got ready to move through the next twelve months. Kelly Hathaway’s husband, Maj. Jimmy Hathaway has deployed to Iraq three times with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team. She said the truth is, that more deployments don’t make being away from her husband any easier.

“But it’s his job, it’s what he’s chosen to do, it’s what he loves to do and I mean, we support him,” she explained.

Kelly Hathaway said her best advice to spouses dealing with deployments for the first time, is to stay very busy.

Cristie Vanderhoof has been through several deployments as well. But this is the first deployment with a child. She and her husband, Sgt. Chad Vanderhoof have a six month old son.

“A lot of people say it’s a lot harder but actually I think it’s a lot easier because time goes by a little bit faster. You especially have somebody that reminds you of that person that’s gone,” said Christie.

But for her husband, the baby certainly won’t make it any easier to be away.
“(I’m) not going to be able to see him take his first word, not going to be able to see him take his first step,” said Sgt. Vanderhoof.

The main body of the 3rd Brigade Heavy Combat Team will continue deploying through the weekend and into the beginning of next week. Everyone is due in Iraq by October 22.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fort Benning's 3rd Brigade Gaining More Online Followers


Last winter, the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team embraced the world of social media by jumping on the YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog bandwagons.

Since the unit launched its Web sites in February and March, interest has grown from just a handful of followers — mostly Sledgehammer soldiers and family members — to an audience of thousands.

As of August 2009, the distribution list for the brigade’s Web site was estimated at more than 5,000 people.

Click here to see brigade videos
Click here to see the 3rd HBCT on Facebook
Click here to read the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s blog

Additionally, the 3rd HBCT boasts close to 1,500 Facebook friends and approximately 2,000 Twitter followers. The unit’s YouTube channel has 24 subscribers and approximately 1,500 views.

One video, posted last week on the 3rd Brigade’s YouTube site, shows a Rock Band video game showdown between Atlanta Falcons football players and soldiers representing the 3rd HBCT. Another video depicts mass casualty training.

In May, when the unit buckled down for Hammer Focus, a crucial Fort Benning-based training exercise meant to prepare the brigade for its upcoming stint at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., families, friends and followers were able to track the brigade’s progress online.

When the brigade departed in July for a 30-day rotation of pre-deployment training in the California desert, the soldier’s stories were told through videos, tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates.

And now, as the 3rd Brigade completes its movement to Iraq — the last flight is due to depart Lawson Army Airfield on Thursday — those who are interested in keeping up with and expressing support for the troops can do so online.

“Social networking allows us to tell our story to a whole other audience who may not have another way to read about us,” said Pfc. Erik Anderson with the brigade’s public affairs office.

So far, the Web chatter has been mostly positive, something Anderson said the soldiers and command team truly appreciate as they say goodbye to loved ones and prepare to spend the next 12 months overseas.

Williamelissa Maldonado wrote the following message Monday on the 3rd HBCT’s Facebook page: “God bless you all and be safe!!!! Honey take care of yourself we love you.”

Jerry Grundhauser on Oct. 9 wrote, “Stay safe warriors you are in my prayers.”

Paula Moser Swain said, “My son’s first deployment. Just heard from him in Kuwait. Everyday I’m praying for all of Sledgehammer. Hooah!”

“We’ve seen a large increase in comments and the amount of interactions and well-wishes received in particular on our blog and Facebook page,” Anderson said.

Security first

Establishing an operationally secure yet information-rich social media network for the 3rd Brigade did require careful consideration of current Army and Department of Defense social media policy, Anderson said.

While the Defense Department has no current policy in place to govern the use of sites such as Twitter, Flickr and Facebook, the Army and Marines do, according to the Army’s Web site.

The Army, for example, recently announced it was reversing a yearslong policy of blocking social media sites. The Marine Corps, however, has gone in a different direction by recently banning Twitter and Facebook from its official networks.

Operational security and troop safety are paramount when considering what should and should not be posted online, Anderson said. “Information that appears online can’t be too specific or give away too much detail that could put soldiers in danger,” he said.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Goodbyes Are NEVER Easy!

I had told myself that I would not choke up when we called Nick to tell him goodbye. My husband dialed the phone and talked first. When he handed me the phone, there were tears in his eyes and that's all it took. I know Nick must have thought that Joey had to go get me at the neighbors house because even though I had the phone in my hand, it took me a few minutes to get the lump out of my throat so I could talk. I composed myself and was able to stay upbeat while I told him goodbye and be safe. As soon as I hung up, I cried like a baby.

Our Soldiers insist they are simply doing their jobs and it just routine. We, as family and friends should try to take the same approach but it's just not that easy. God is holding them in His hands and will return them safely in twelve, hopefully short months.

As soon as I hung up with Nick, I thought of something I had forgotten to ask. I picked up the cell phone and sent him a text...something I won't be able to do for a while now. Within seconds, I had a reply.

It's little things like phone calls, text messages and the daily happenings that are taken for granted until they are gone. After I experienced the first deployment with Chris and the others, I realized very quickly that we should truly cherish every single moment of our lives.

Godspeed, Nick. We love you and will be praying for you!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Clock Begins Ticking on 3rd Bridade Deployment

By: Stefanie Tiso, from

The first soldiers from the “Sledgehammer Brigade” left for Iraq on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday afternoon, the brigade came together on Kelley Hill for a casing ceremony. The 3rd Infantry Division Commanding General, Major General Tony Cuculo joined the 3rd Brigade Heavy Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division in packing up the flags. Around 3,600 3rd Brigade soldiers from Ft. Benning will head to Iraq to “finish the mission” as Maj. Gen. Cuculo described it. This will be the 3rd Brigade’s fourth deployment to Iraq. The 3rd brigade was the first in the 3rd Infantry Division, in the Middle East prior to the invasion of Iraq. The mission is much different now, than it was then.

“What we’re trying to do now is buying just a little more time for the political machine of Iraq, to get a credible, viable, national level government and provincial governance connection. And the only way that’s going to happen is security,” said Maj. Gen. Cuculo

“I think every commander hopes that you accomplish the mission and you bring everybody back. We’re standing here today and we know it’s not that easy. This brigade, over three deployments has lost 70 soldiers,” explained 3rd Brigade Commander, Colonel Pete Jones.

The 3rd Brigade is slated to deploy for 12 months. Between now and Christmas, 14,000 3rd Infantry Division soldiers from Ft. Benning and Ft. Stewart will hit the ground in Iraq.

NCOs Keep Soldiers Ready

Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, slowly file on to a plane destined for Kuwait at Lawson Army Air Field, Fort Benning, Ga., Oct. 7. The 3rd HBCT will train in Kuwaitt before beginning their 12 month deployment in Iraq

Story and photos by Sgt. Ben Hutto, 3rd HBCT Public Affairs

FORT BENNING, Ga. – A year in Iraq loomed large as one by one, Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division began to board a plane at Lawson Army Airfield. For many of them, this would be their first trip outside of the country. Many of the senior members of the 3rd HBCT have made the trip at least three times before.

As everyone waited for their time to leave, noncommissioned officers were there answering questions, directing their Soldiers and offering words on encouragement to their subordinates.

When the time to board the plane arrived, every Soldier was ready to go. Months of preparation had ensured that Soldiers’ families were prepared financially for the deployment, vehicles were stored safely away, medical records had been updated and countless other tasks were accomplished to ensure that every Soldier who got on the plane was prepared to go to Iraq and do their job effectively. The job of ensuring readiness will not end for the NCOs once they get on the plane, however.

“My NCOs are in charge during the whole deployment process,” said 1st Sgt. Lawrence Jordan, Headquarters Company. “Wherever our Soldiers will be, our NCOs will be there ensuring everything is running like it should. Whether it is clearing out of the barracks, zeroing weapons at the range, or attending classes in Kuwait, our NCOs will make sure that our Soldiers are doing what they are supposed to and getting everything they need.”

For the Sledgehammer Brigade’s NCOs, it is an important responsibility that extends beyond checking off a list of duties.

“I take my job very seriously,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jose Lopez, a platoon sergeant in Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment. “I am responsible for 25 Soldiers and their families. My job is to ensure that 25 Soldiers are focused and not worrying about home. It is also to ensure 25 families will see their Soldiers return here safe and sound.”

Training is a key component for leaders like Jordan and Lopez. According to Lopez, training keeps Soldiers sharp and focused.

“We will continue to train in Kuwait,” he said. “We will continue to train in Iraq. The training never stops. The day our Soldiers quit training will be the day they leave the Army.”

Making training and readiness a priority is music to the ears of leaders like Command Sgt. Maj. Antonio Jones, Brigade Special Troops Battalion.

“I expect our NCOs to set the standard out front,” he said. “Our Soldiers need to know what is expected of them before we land in Kuwait and Iraq. We cannot allow them to go on vacation for a year.”

The new security agreement means less combat patrols and more time on the Forward Operating Bases. Unlike past deployments, Soldiers will not be required to kick in doors or search for high value targets. They will be asked to remain ready to assist their Iraqi counterparts. According to Jones, this will be a huge change for the 3rd HBCT’s combat veterans and may be a disappointment for Soldiers on their first deployment.

“All that work in the past, has set the stage for today,” said Jones. “Our new Soldiers will be an important part of this when this is over, whatever role they play. This is much bigger than 3rd Infantry Division. This is about making history.”

Lopez agrees. He was there with the 3rd HBCT the first time they deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has seen Iraq change from a country on the verge of economic collapse and torn apart by sectarian violence; to a country that is ready for America to leave.

“Whether a Soldier was there at the beginning or coming to Iraq for the first time, we are all doing something to help the change that has occurred in Iraq,” he said. “It is something that everyone can be proud of at the end of the day. My job is to ensure that my Soldiers will be able to finish what we started.”

Here We Go Again...

Once 3ID, always 3ID! Even though my son is no longer officially a part of 3ID, it will always have a special place in my heart. During the last deployment, I became friends with many of you and have decided to continue posting to Footprints In The Sand.

Capt. Nick James is like my second son and as his deployment day quickly approaching, my butterflies have arrived. I share his families sinking feeling of "another deployment". We find ourselves wanting to call him everyday because we know the day is coming very soon that we can't just pick up the phone and say "What's up?" In other words, we are already missing him and he's not even gone!!

My boxes are ready and I'm gearing up for another 12 month deployment. We will band together and provide comfort and support for one another and have faith that God WILL return them home safely in 12 months.

Fort Benning 3rd Brigade Prepares for Fourth Deployment

Command Sgt. Maj. James Pearson, left, and brigade commander Col. Pete Jones, right, case the colors for the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team during ceremonies at Kelley Hill Wednesday. The brigade will begin its fourth deployment overseas this week. - Robin Trimarchi/

By LILY GORDON - lgordon@ledger-

The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division officially began its fourth movement overseas in six years on Wednesday, yet again solidifying for the unit the title of most deployed combat brigade in the U.S. Army.

To mark the moment and provide an appropriate send off for those soldiers awaiting deployment again, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, visited Kelley Hill.

Cucolo, along with 3rd HBCT commander Col. Pete Jones, addressed the troops during what is called a “color casing ceremony,” a symbolic event that readies the unit’s colors for movement and marks the beginning of the brigade’s deployment to Iraq.

Robin Trimarchi Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo answers questions about the 3rd Infantry Division's upcoming deployment to Iraq. The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team cased its colors in ceremonies Wednesday on Kelley Hill.

“It’s a visual for everyone that says, ‘This is it, we’ve trained for it, we’re ready for it and now we are actually leaving,’” Cucolo said.

During the 2 p.m. event, the 3rd Brigade’s flag, campaign streamers and guidons were rolled up and prepared to ship overseas.

Now safely packed away, the colors will not see the light of day until they are ceremoniously unfurled in Kuwait.

There, they will be reunited with the remainder of the brigade.

“It’s October,” Cucolo told the troops and crowd Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve got the run up to the World Series, we’ve got college and high school football. It’s week four of the NFL. And at Kelley Hill, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, October means boxes are packed, containers are loaded, personal equipment is inspected and arms are sore from fresh vaccinations.

“Some folks will be checking box scores in the American League and National League, we’ll be checking wills and powers of attorney,” Cucolo added. “And when most of America concentrates on its holiday traditions this December, by this holiday season 14,000 of us dog-faced soldiers will be in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Soldiers’ sacrifices

Seventy 3rd Brigade soldiers have been killed and more than 200 injured during the unit’s previous three deployments to Iraq.

The casing of the colors ceremony gave Jones the opportunity to remind the community of those sacrifices and the myriad other challenges the brigade’s soldiers have faced over the past seven years.

“The lineage of this brigade has been built on the sacrifices of those who’ve gone before us, many of whom are standing in formation now preparing for the first, second, third and in some cases fourth deployment since 9/11,” Jones said. “Even as I speak the brigade’s first main body is already en route to Kuwait to begin our final preparations for movements into Iraq.”

By next week, approximately 4,000 3rd Brigade soldiers will be on their way to Iraq, beginning a 12-month tour. Each day on Fort Benning brings another batch of goodbyes, fresh tears and more flights scheduled to depart Lawson Army Airfield. When the final wave of Hammer brigade soldiers board those last airplanes destined for half a world away, Kelley Hill will fall quiet.

New mission

Whereas the brigade was previously called upon to lead and fight in Iraq, it’s new mission is to advise and assist Iraqi security forces as they strive to protect their own nation.

“What is very different about this one is the Iraqi Security Forces are very capable and what we’re trying to do now is buy just a little more time for the political machine of Iraq to get a credible, viable, national level government and provincial level governance connection, and the only way that’s going to happen is if there’s security.”

The brigade’s ultimate goal upon completion of its estimated 365-day deployment is to confidently hand the reins over to the Iraqi people so American troops can continue to dial down their presence in that country. “Our proud history, our training, our dedication to duty and desire to succeed as Marne soldiers will ensure success no matter the operating environment,” Jones said. “In fact the only question is, how successful can we be?”