<b>FORT BENNING, Ga. </b>- Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, stepped off the plane at Lawson Army Airfield at Fort Benning after a year-long deployment during the early morning hours, Aug. 15.

The Soldiers were part of the 3rd HBCT's advanced party that will help make preparations for the brigade's return back to Fort Benning in September and October.

"It feels great to be back," said Staff Sgt. Calvin Trotty, a Soldier assigned to Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion. "I just hope that 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."

Several more flights are planned this month. By the end of the month, 600 of the brigade's Soldiers will be back at Kelley Hill, the 3rd HBCT's home on Fort Benning.

"That was the easiest flight I've ever had from Iraq," said Sgt. Alexander Hardy, communications specialist in B Co., 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. According to the redeploying Soldiers and their Families, 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 for 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."

Many of the spouses explained that 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 Soldier in A Co., 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."

Sergeant 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."

Sergeant Hardy, who has deployed to Iraq with the 3rd HBCT twice during his career, said that talking to people back in the states added to him and his fellow Soldier's morale.

"When we were at [Forward Operating Base] 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 Maj. Stasevich. "Everything about this time was different. It all ran much smoother."

Sergeant 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 work week makes me laugh. I can go to any employer and say whatever they throw at me will not be as hard as 80-hour work weeks - working every day, with no breaks, for a year. Everything from here on out will seem easy."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16