FORT SHAFTER - Excited chatter rose into the warm night air, and eyes glistened as the moment of anticipation finally arrived.
The time was 3 a.m.; yet, hundreds of people who had gathered at Fort Shafter were fully awake. It was not too early to welcome home a hero.
"Anyone who willingly leaves home, friends and family for a year, during this time when our nation is at war, is a hero," said Command Sgt. Maj. Martin W. Glenn of the 500th Military Intelligence (MI) Brigade.
In this case it was the return of not one, but almost 300 Soldiers from the 205th MI Battalion, Saturday, after an almost yearlong deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"To the families and the Soldiers, 'Well done, mission accomplished, aloha and welcome home,'" said Col. Richard Longo, chief of staff, U.S. Army Pacific Command, when addressing troops and family members.
Cheers and applause echoed throughout the gym as each Soldier was presented with a lei. Following the welcome home ceremony, loved ones and Soldiers embraced, celebrating the safe return of their entire battalion.
"It is a testament to the leadership that they are bringing everyone home alive," said Glenn. "It's very dangerous work."
During its deployment, the 205th gathered vital intelligence through teams of Soldiers who were dispersed across the entire Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNCI) and the Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNFI) areas of operations. Teams were spread from Mosul in the north, Baqubah in the east, Al Asad in the west, and even to Kuwait City in the south.
"They are out there, at risk, as much so as infantry men," said Lt. Col. Stephen E. Zarbo, deputy commanding officer of the 500th. "Military intelligence Soldiers are behind any piece of success you've heard about the engagement in Iraq. They are the unsung warriors."
Intelligence products were aggressively collected, analyzed and reported, fulfilling priority intelligence requirements for brigade, division and the MNCI commanders. As a result of the battalion's in-depth reporting, maneuver commanders executed hundreds of combat operations that disrupted numerous attacks, the delivery of enemy suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices.
"As we spend more and more time [in Iraq], we have to adapt to changes in TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures]," said Sgt. 1st Class James M. Farina, tactical operations center noncommissioned officer in charge, S-3, 205th Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment. "Our Soldiers were wonderful with adapting. They had to in order to save themselves, to accomplish the mission and to find the bad guys."
Throughout its deployment, the 205th's efforts resulted in a dramatic decrease in friendly deaths and an increase in sustainment operations for MNFI. Interrogations performed by mobile intelligence teams led to the imprisonment of hundreds of insurgents as well as the release of innocent people.
One team of 205th Soldiers provided intelligence that enabled the special inspector general for the Iraqi Reconstruction Office to arrest several members of a black marketing group, thus preventing the distribution of more than 80,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition that could have fallen into enemy hands.
"We don't do our job correctly unless we can see the results of our work," said Staff Sgt. Christopher B. Pitts, operations management team NCOIC, Company C, 205th.
Intelligence reported by the 205th also led to the disarming of multiple illegal checkpoints in central Baghdad. The removal of these illegal checkpoints, manned by prominent terrorist groups, showed the Iraqi people that the newly elected government was working to restore freedom of movement and security within Iraq.
"It's an ecstatic feeling to know that our work actually meant something, that it took a bad guy off the street," said Chief Warrant Officer Sherry L. Hardy, electronic intelligence officer in charge, Company A, 205th.
In addition to conducting military intelligence missions, 205th security teams executed more than 124 convoy operations. The battalion was awarded a meritorious unit citation for its exemplary efforts in Iraq.
Among the many awards issued to individual Soldiers of the 209th were three Purple Hearts, approximately 29 Combat Action Badges, and 38 Bronze Stars.