Sunday, September 28, 2003

Isle National Guard awaits
word on possible Iraq duty

While similar national guard units have been called for Iraq duty, Hawaii's Army National Guard has not yet been told if it will be sent.

Last week, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said more U.S. National Guard and Reserve units may be called up to serve in Iraq if the United States fails to get other countries to contribute to the coalition forces there.

"By around the end of October, beginning of November, we should be alerting the forces that need to be called up," he told reporters Wednesday.

On Friday, the 4,300-member 81st Enhanced Brigade from the Washington Army National Guard was put in line to go on active duty for the second time this year.

Maj. Chuck Anthony, Hawaii National Guard spokesman, said he was aware of the latest action involving the citizen soldiers from Washington, but said so far "there has been no warning order issued" for those from Hawaii.

The alert call for the Washington soldiers was made at the same time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the Army's request to mobilize two other special Army National Guard enhanced brigades -- the 30th Infantry Brigade from North Carolina and the 39th Infantry Brigade from Arkansas.

The mobilization orders for those two Army National Guard units will take effect Oct. 12 and will occupy the citizen soldiers from anywhere to a year to 18 months, including time to equip, train, mobilize, leave and return, the Pentagon said.

The Hawaii Army National Guard this summer sent 62 helicopter mechanics and other specialists to Iraq for at least six months of active duty with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. In February, the 10th Mountain will be replaced with the first increment of 3,500 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks. The second increment of 3,500 soldiers from the division's 2nd Brigade will be sent in six months later as replacement.

On Sept. 9, the Pentagon announced that the 20,000 reservists in Iraq will be kept in uniform for 12 months.

The National Guard Bureau has said there are now 30,500 National Guard troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait, or about 18 percent of the 166,000 U.S. troops. This is the largest National Guard presence since the Korean War. By comparison, only about 7,000 National Guard troops served in Vietnam.

The 2,100 member Hawaii Army National Guard was among the 15 Army National Guard units that were singled out more than a decade ago to receive special training and equipment as an "enhanced brigade," so they could go into conflict within 90 days.

Col. Joseph Chaves, who assumed command of the 29th Brigade in May, has said he believes his soldiers "are as ready as any of the enhanced brigades."

The 29th Infantry Brigade is the Hawaii Army National Guard's major combat unit and includes a battalion of more than 500 soldiers from the Army Reserve, the 100th Battalion/442nd Regiment. Along with the 25th Division, its primary mission is to respond to conflicts in Asia and the Pacific, especially on the Korean peninsula.

Brig. Gen. Vern Miyagi, commander of the Hawaii Army National Guard, recently said that the 29th Infantry Brigade is considered "one of the top enhanced brigades in the Army. We're very close to the top."

"If we are called, we would respond," added Miyagi. "That's what we have been training for. We have been training the same way as the active Army ... and we are ready."


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