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Advance party lands at Lawson

Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team are coming home to Fort Benning. The first flight landed at Lawson Army Airfield during the early morning hours Aug. 15.

The Soldiers are part of the brigade’s advance party that will prepare for the brigade’s return in September and October.

“It feels great to be back,” said SSG Calvin Trotty, with A Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion. “I just hope the rest of my guys will make this same trip and get home safe. It’s hard to be away from home, but it’s a good feeling to see your family when you step off that plane.”

By the end of the month, 600 Soldiers will be back at Kelley Hill.

“That was the easiest flight I’ve ever had from Iraq,” said SGT Alexander Hardy, a communications specialist in B Company, BSTB. “That is the first time I’ve ever arrived early on a military flight. This is the best feeling in the world because I know this was my last trip to Iraq.”

The 3rd HBCT has deployed to Iraq four times in the last seven years, more than any other heavy brigade combat team in the Army. The Soldiers and their families said this deployment was much different than the three previous ones.

“This deployment was more about transitioning security over to the Iraqi Security Forces and getting our equipment out of Iraq,” said MAJ Stephen Stasevich, the incoming executive officer of the 3rd HBCT. “A lot of the time it was about entrusting our security in our Iraqi partner’s hands, which wasn’t the case my previous two deployments.”

The spouses said it was much easier for them to stay in contact with their deployed Soldiers this time around.

“This time was better because we communicated more,” said Cindy Martinez, the wife of SGT Antonio Martinez, A Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment.

“Deployments can be a bad thing when you have kids and you have to explain to them why dad is gone. This time, we spoke several times a week, which helped everyone. Being able to talk with him every day made it much easier for me, and my son. The deployment went by much faster this time.”

Hardy was one of the Soldiers responsible for helping set up those communications. He said it was one of the most rewarding parts of his final tour in Iraq.

“I feel like I made a huge difference in the mission this time around,” he said. “Being the ‘Voice of Battle,’ my Soldiers and I always play a big role during war-time operations, but it was a good feeling to know that when Soldiers were missing home, I could give them a chance to call or Skype back. Helping Soldiers stay connected with home gave me a good feeling.”

Hardy, who deployed to Iraq with the 3rd HBCT twice during his career, said communication with people in the States added to his and fellow Soldiers’ morale.

“When we were at Hammer (FOB Hammer), I got to call home once a week; if I was lucky,” he said. “This deployment I called home several times a day. It just made things easier for everyone.”

As they waited to be reunited with their friends and loved ones, many of the returning Soldiers reflected on all they had been through during their time in Iraq.

“As I got on the plane, it was hard to grasp that this was really going to be my last time in Iraq,” said Stasevich. “Everything about this time was different. It all ran much smoother.”

Hardy, who is getting out of the Army in December, said his two deployments were learning experiences that helped develop him into a better person.

“I have more patience now than I ever did before I went to Iraq,” he said. “The prospect of a 40-hour workweek makes me laugh. I can go to any employer and say whatever they throw at me will not be as hard as 80-hour workweeks; working every day, with no breaks, for a year. Everything from here on out will seem easy.”