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.