Sunday, May 9, 2004

Five-year-old Marc-Julian Galicha, bottom left, 6-year-old Josiah Acuna, Leilani Dagvip, Myung So and Alysha Acuna will celebrate Mother's Day today thinking about loved ones with the 411th Battalion in Baghdad.

Soldiers’ clans
improvise Mom’s Day

Army husbands with the 411th
Battalion spend their first
big holiday in Baghdad

Leilani Dagvip is supposed to spend a typical Mother's Day breakfast this morning with her family at a Kalihi restaurant.

The only hitch is that her husband, Spc. Brandon Dagvip, is in Baghdad with the 411th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), and told her to stay home and wait for a surprise.

"I talked to him on Friday," Leilani Dagvip said, "and he asked me stay home for the whole day ... I know he wants to surprise me with something. I'm sure he's thinking about flowers, but my family and his family are supposed to be at breakfast at 8."

Alysha Acuna already has her bouquet of Mother Day's flowers from her fiance, Sgt. Ceferino Ladiero, who also is in Iraq with the 411th.

"When I talked with him on Thursday," Acuna, 25, said, "he told me that since I won't be there to buy you flowers -- buy some for yourself, my mother (Maria Acuna) and his mother (Auroa Ladiero).

"He told me I should go out on a shopping spree on him." She has her eyes on a Coach leather handbag.

Mother's Day will be the first major celebration that members of the 411th will face without their spouses and girlfriends since the Hammerhead Battalion left Schofield Barracks in late March.

It is the first Mother's Day celebration Sgt. Phil So, a 16-year military veteran, will miss in his 17 years of marriage.

"Normally, he and my two sons prepare breakfast for me," said his wife, Myung So, 39. "Later since his family is on the mainland and mine is in Korea, we just go out and have a nice family dinner."

She said her husband, who handles administrative duties in the 411th's Headquarters and Support Company, called Friday and they spoke for nearly 10 minutes.

"He always tells me he's okay," she added. "He said things there are much safer there than in any other location ... but then he always says that. I don't think he would tell me if there were any difficulties or dangers."

Acuna, a 1996 Waianae High School graduate, said the first couple of weeks after Ladiero, a 1999 Leilehua High School graduate, left were "the roughest."

"But the hardest was when they left Kuwait for Baghdad," said Alysha Acuna, 25, "and were traveling by convoy. That was the hardest because that was supposed to be the most dangerous part. He told me the convoy was only going to take four days. So on the fifth day I was worried when no phone call came.

"Later he said he couldn't call because several bridges had been blown up and that they were forced to stop.

"I later found out that he was driving the lead truck, which is one of the most dangerous assignments. He said that he always thought he was safe during the entire convoy operation because there were helicopters flying overhead every five minutes.

"But that really didn't reassure me," Acuna said.

Although it's only been a month since the 600 Army Reservists left Schofield, Dagvip, 20, said "it seems like forever. The days go by so slowly."

Dagvip and her husband, who is on leave from his job as a cargo agent for Aloha Airlines, graduated from Campbell High School. Brandon in 2000 and Leilani a year later.

They were introduced to each other by mutual friends and were married on Dec. 9 at a civil ceremony just after the 411th was mobilized during the Thanksgiving holidays.

Leilani Dagvip, however, still would like a formal wedding and is planning one in 2005 -- "as close to the Dec. 9 date as possible."

Of the 600 members of the 411th who were sent to Baghdad for a year as part of the 1st Cavalry Division, more than 300 are from Hawaii. The unit also has 100 reservists from different parts of the western United States, 40 from American Samoa and 150 from Alaska and Guam.

Since March 26, the 411th have been stationed at Camp Victory North, northeast of Baghdad International Airport, in what was once a former hunting reserve for Saddam Hussein. The engineers are helping to build the largest Army outpost outside of the United States0.

Acuna said the biggest problem now is communication since the reservists still have limited e-mail access and any cell phone connection "is really bad."

"It costs about 93 cent a minute for him to call by cell phone," said Acuna, "and many times we get cut off because the connection is that bad."

The couple want to get married as soon as Ladiero returns and complete their nursing degrees from Hawaii Pacific University.

Until many of the communications problems have been resolved, the Pacific Army Reserve has set aside 438-1600, ext. 3444, as a special phone line for family members seeking information about their soldiers.


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