Friday, March 19, 2004

Before the deployment ceremony yesterday at Sills Field at Schofield Barracks for Hawaii soldiers headed to Afghanistan and Iraq, 5-year-old Keanu Ortez found his dad, Sgt. Victor Ortez, for a hug.

Ceremony honors
troops set for duty

More than 5,800 soldiers are headed
for deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq

More than 5,800 Schofield Barracks troops and Hawaii Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers stood at attention on Sills Field yesterday, outfitted in new desert camouflage uniforms and contrasting green flak vests.

"During your deployment, I doubt you see will a day as orderly as this day, but you will see tremendous acts of courage and compassion, and I know you will see some tragic events that seem completely unexplainable," Gov. Linda Lingle told the soldiers, assembled for a farewell ceremony yesterday prior to deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq.

"This fight our nation has undertaken is especially difficult because we are battling an enemy that hides in the shadows," Lingle said. "There is no room for compromise with such an enemy because for democracy to flourish, terrorists must be defeated swiftly and soundly, and I know that is exactly what you are going to do."

The National Guard and Reserve make up the largest force of citizen soldiers mobilized from the islands since the Vietnam War.

Following the ceremony, Lingle walked to the National Guard soldiers to tell them what "they bring (to Iraq) is the spirit of aloha which is not of the tourist sense, but one from the heart."

For the soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division, their year-long deployment to Afghanistan is also their largest troop movement since the Vietnam War.

The deployment of 3,500 members of the 3rd Bronco Combat Brigade Team and 1,500 soldiers from the aviation brigade and the division headquarters to Afghanistan will be spread between now and the end of April.

The 600 members of the Army Reserve's 411th Engineer Combat (Heavy) and the 200 soldiers of Charlie Company of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 193rd Aviation Regiment are being sent to Iraq.

The 25th Division will have nearly 8,500 soldiers either in Iraq or Afghanistan by the end of next month, leaving behind about 1,500 soldiers at the Wahiawa post. Schofield Barracks is already feeling the effects.

Army officials said that after the 2nd Brigade Team left for Iraq in February, there were "more space in the parking lots" and shorter lines at the gates in the morning, even with required identification checks.

Maj. Eric Olson, commanding general of the 25th Division, told the soldiers they are off "to join what could be called the struggle against the greatest direct threat to our nation since World War II."

Olson will be gone for a year as he assumes command of Army forces in Afghanistan from the 10th Mountain Division.

Even after 19 years, Deb Sellers says her emotions are mixed. Her husband, Lt. Col. Jerry Sellers, commands the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Infantry.

Jerry Sellers fought in 1991's Desert Storm as company commander.

"I didn't have my two young children then," said Deb Sellers, who married her Waterloo, Iowa, high school sweetheart 19 years ago.

"Part of his going away is easier now," she said. "The kids will keep me busy. But it's a mixed feeling since I know they will miss their daddy."

Fifth-grader Lindsey Sellers said she will do her part by sending her father a care package every week "filled with everything to make his life comfortable," like candy corn, which he never gets enough of.


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