Returning from 15-month deployment spurs celebration
March 13, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas - Soldiers with the 1st Cavalry Division played pool, rode a mechanical bull, enjoyed some food and beverages and danced the night away March 8.
It may sound a lot like a party because it was a party - a welcome home party to be exact.
After 15 months of being deployed, supporting four aviation battalions, the 615th Aviation Support "Cold Steel" Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, decided it was time to officially declare themselves home as a unit.
The welcome home party and combat spur ceremony were sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6008 from Hewitt, Texas, said Command Sgt. Maj. Glen Vela, the command sergeant major for Cold Steel, a native of Dallas, Texas.
Vela had nothing but words of kindness for Post 6008.
"I met the guys while we were downrange ... we inherited them from the previous unit. Those guys are just awesome. I can't say enough about the VFW," said Vela.
The event started off with an opening formation where Baraboo, Wis., native Lt. Col. Mark Hirschinger, the commander of Cold Steel, praised each of his companies for their work in Iraq.
Each company came home with their goals superseded. Company A, for example, pumped nearly six million gallons of fuel to coalition aircraft. Company F was recognized by the Army Aviation Association of America as the top air traffic control unit in the Army, said Hirschinger.
After commending the unit's accomplishments, Cold Steel honored the VFW leaders that helped make their deployment easier and who also made the night's events possible.
Harry Munn, the commander of VFW Post 6008, received honorary gold spurs for all his contributions.
Earlier that night, Munn had some very profound thoughts about Cold Steel and today's Soldiers.
"When all those Soldiers came home during World War II, they were called the 'Great Generation.' It was well deserved because they saved the world from tyranny," he said.
"I believe that these Soldiers here tonight, at Fort Hood and all the military, are going to be, once this war on terrorism is beat, they are going to be the next great generation of American heroes," said Munn.
These flattering words are familiar amongst VFW members because they have an unspoken bond between the Soldiers returning from Iraq, said Vela.
"The bond is that the guys are all (veterans) from Vietnam and Korea and they're just like we are - just older," said Vela.
After the VFW members were recognized, the rest of the 615th ASB received their spurs from their respective commanders and leadership.
"I did earn my spurs and it does feel good. I've got my Stetson and now (my) spurs - the outfit is complete. I'm a true cavalryman now," said Carlsbad, N.M., native Spc. Alejandro Briceno, the command sergeant major's driver.
Vela believes his Soldiers definitely earned their gold spurs this deployment, he said.
"I think these guys should have gold watches to go with their gold spurs. I tell you what; they (sure) earned them and then some."
Vela believes that there is something special about being authorized to wear the gold spurs.
"The significance between the gold and silver (spurs) to the untrained eye is not that big of deal, but when you earn combat spurs, you are authorized and allowed to wear gold spurs - that's the big difference," he said.
The Soldiers not only came back with the right to don some gold spurs, but with a realization that they were doing something good for their country, said Cleveland, Texas, native Staff Sgt. Shasta Villarreal, the S-6 noncommissioned officer in charge.
"I believe we made a difference while we were over there. Not everyone will have the opportunity to actually go overseas and serve our country like we did," she said.
Briceno had a lot of memories from the deployment, but there are three events that stand out most in his mind.
"The very first day I stepped foot there; the unfortunate death of one of our Soldiers, Spc. (Zandra) Walker; and the last step I took there," he said.
But the deployment, with all its good memories and bad, was behind the Cold Steel Soldiers as they enjoyed the company of their comrades at their welcome home party.
The VFW Post 6008, with donations from their National Organization out of Kansas City, Mo., was able to raise more than $15,000 to put into the night's events, but that didn't compare to the respect Munn and his fellow veterans felt towards 615th, he said.
"It's just pride. It's pride in these young men and women that are willing to join the military, volunteer and go fight for their country. And the least we can do, as ... Veterans, is show them that respect," said Munn.
There is no shortage of pride in the 615th ASB.
"The number of people here is just a testament to the motivation of our battalion. These guys are great. They'll run through walls for the colonel and I and this is the most, I believe, motivated battalion in the brigade," Vela said with a huge grin.
And what lies ahead for Cold Steel is answered with the motivation that Vela talks about.
"As I see it, we are growing. Ever since I've been in the battalion, since 2005, we have grown in numbers, in strength and in our standards. We are the brigade standard. We're just going to get bigger and better."