By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Cucolo, rest of headquarters back
Redeployment from Iraq continuing
Jessica Hinojos, 3, bundled up in her bear cap to welcome home her father, Staff Sgt. Earnest Hinojos. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
After 13 long months, the boss is finally home. 3rd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo and about 35 Division Special Troops Battalion soldiers marched onto Fort Stewart’s Cottrell Field Friday morning. An enthusiastic but relatively intimate crowd of family members, friends and local veterans waited in growing anticipation.
First Presbyterian Christian Academy student Zack James, 17, and his sister, Madison James, 12, waited in the cool morning air for their father, Col. Thomas James, to appear on the field.
When asked what they missed most about their dad Zack replied, “His sense of humor.”
His sister replied with a bright smile, “Everything!”
Cucolo marched briskly at the head of the tight formation. He and Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse Andrews greeted one another with a respectful salute followed by a heartfelt hug. Andrews returned stateside last month to prepare for his next assignment. He will serve as the senior enlisted advisor to Lt. Gen. Thomas Miller of First Army at Fort Gillem.
The general and command sergeant major then proceeded to uncase the colors at Fort Stewart for the fourth time in seven years.
“It feels wonderful to be home,” Cucolo said. The general said his homecoming is bittersweet because some 3rd ID units are still deployed.  Much of the aviation brigade out of Hunter Army Airfield is still serving in Afghanistan and the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team and 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Fort Stewart are still in Iraq. The 1st Brigade will redeploy next month and the 4th Brigade will return home next July.
“We feel a great sense of validation,” Cucolo said of the 3rd ID’s support of Operation Iraqi Freedom followed by Operation New Dawn.
The troop level in Northern Iraq went from 21,000 to 9,600 within three months during the drawdown, Cucolo told reporters. The presidential mandate is to keep 50,000 troops in Iraq until December 2011, he said.
“There was no change in the operational tempo,” he said. Cucolo said his soldiers operated everyday “on the Kurd-Arab fault line” helping to ease tensions and help the country avoid an ethnic civil war.
The general also was proud of the part the 3rd ID played in Iraq’s first democratic elections held last spring.
“It was (almost) like being in the U.S. during an election,” he said. “There were campaign signs everywhere.”
Cucolo said the U.S. may remain in Iraq to continue to assist and train Iraqi Security Forces as needed.
“When I got on the plane to fly home we had the lowest level of violence in Iraq since 2004,” he said with pride. The 3rd ID was in Iraq from the beginning of the war, Cucolo reminded reporters. “The 3rd ID put the nail in the coffin of Saddam Hussein,” he said.
The general said his first task upon coming home was to “get reacquainted with Ginger,” his patient wife, and then to catch up with military and civilian leaders who supported troops and their families during the year-long deployment. The community’s support is “priceless,” he said.
Without such staunch support, troops would have a harder time concentrating on their mission, Cucolo said. “(Support) is a combat multiplier,” he said.
The general had some advice for soldiers as they reintegrate into family life at home.
“Understand that things have changed and you’ve changed. Take it slow and talk to everyone,” he said.

Sign up for our E-Newsletters