Spc. Chad Rother, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, hugs his son, Caleb, 6, at a pre-dawn ceremony Wednesday at Fort Hood.

By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD — Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, were welcomed home Wednesday during a pre-dawn ceremony at Cooper Field.

The brigade is returning through next month from its fourth — and final — deployment to Iraq. More than 700 Thunder Horse soldiers spent the year advising and training 11,000 Iraqi police and other non-military forces in the northern province of Kirkuk in support of Operation New Dawn.

The 240 battalion troopers arrived in formation at 4 a.m., rousing sleepy friends and families from their bleacher seats. They crossed the field to the soundtrack of the crowd’s cheers and a deejay’s high-energy selections before battalion commander Lt. Col. Joseph Holland and Command Sgt. Maj. William May led the uncasing of its colors.

Following the ritual, division rear detachment commander Col. Philip Battaglia thanked the unit for its work, and asked soldiers to celebrate their homecoming in moderation. A drink or two is acceptable, he said, “but you don’t need to make up for the whole year all at once.”

At Battaglia’s word, Thunder Horse families charged the mass of soldiers on the parade field.

Greeting his family on the field’s giant 1st Cavalry emblem, Holland said it felt “exhilarating” to have left Iraq for the last time, “knowing we were able to accomplish these tasks the way our military and government intended us to.”

In early August, the battalion relinquished its authority to local Iraqi police, constabulary and other non-military forces, ahead of the standing Dec. 31 deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal. May said the unit easily adjusted to its atypical training mission, while maintaining a defensive posture. “The enemy still has a vested interest in killing Americans,” he said. “(But) the Iraqi police and Iraqi security forces are more targeted.”

Holland said the battalion suffered one training injury in theater.

The mission’s most difficult aspect, May said, was communicating with national allies in three languages — Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish.