Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Spec. Howard Lopes said goodbye to his daughter, Molly, while another daughter, Amy Lyn, waited her turn yesterday morning. Lopes is one of 2,000 members of Hawaii's 29th Infantry Brigade.

Training begins
for tour in Iraq

Five months of pre-deployment
drills open for some 2,000
Hawaii Guard soldiers

Hawaii Army Reserve Spc. Howard Lopes got a rude introduction to active-duty Army life yesterday.

He was late for the first formation of his unit -- Delta Company of the 100th Battalion at Fort Shafter Flats -- and had to crawl on his belly on the lawn in front of his orderly room with other latecomers.

Yesterday was the first day of active duty for more than 2,000 Hawaii Army National Guard and Army reservists in Hawaii and more than a 1,000 in American Samoa, Guam, the Marianas, California, Minnesota and Oregon. The soldiers will be in Iraq for at least a year. There will also be about five months of pre-deployment training and about a month of post-deployment duty.

This is the first time since 1968 that the Hawaii Army National Guard has been placed on active duty. Last time, only 40 percent, or 1,500 soldiers, went to Vietnam. This time, all of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade is destined for Iraq and possibly other places like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The brigade will replace the 81st Brigade from Washington state whose units are assigned to those areas. Six 81st Brigade soldiers were killed in combat since the unit arrived in March, the latest on Aug. 5 during a patrol in Baghdad.

During their first day of active duty, Hawaii's citizen soldiers got a taste of a staple of Army life, "hurry up and wait."

Spc. Jackie Fuertes measured Staff Sgt. Dorlynn Andres for her desert camouflage uniform yesterday while Spc. Losival Faaiu recorded the information. This was one of the many activities soldiers of the 29th Infantry Brigade undertook yesterday after reporting to active duty at Kalaeloa.

Spc. Lopaka Eguchi, a member of the 29th Support Battalion's military police platoon, said he "got everything squared away and was ready to go." But at 11 a.m. he was "waiting for information" such as when he would be transported to Schofield Barracks, what barracks he would be billeted in and if he could go home every day after training.

Maj. Chuck Anthony, National Guard spokesman, said "the Oahu-based soldiers can go home at the end of each duty day. However, many of them will get a barracks room since they may have to work as late as 8 each night and be back on the job as early as 6 in the morning."

Staff Sgt. Patrick Day, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard for 18 years, said he had not been told that he would be allowed to go home every day.

"We've been advised that if we are released after 8, you stay there," said Day, 35.

Day, a member of Charlie Company, 29th Support Battalion, predicted that most of his day will be taken up with "paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork."

Brig. Gen. Joseph Chaves, 29th Brigade commander, said that Army National Guard soldiers from the neighbor islands will be at Schofield Barracks by Friday. "We will begin training in areas such as weapons qualification, common task skills, land navigation and driving training on Monday.

"My emphasis will be on PT (physical training)," Chaves added. "We will have PT six days a week ... every morning at 6 o'clock."

Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, commander of the Hawaii Army and Air National Guard, said that 35 percent of the more than 2,000 soldiers placed on active duty yesterday are college and community college students -- a reflection of the educational benefits of free tuition offered by the National Guard as part of its recruitment efforts. The next-largest group of 18 percent are federal employees. State employees follow with 6 percent, and county workers at 5 percent.

Army Reserve members of the 29th Brigade will begin arriving at Schofield Barracks later this week from American Samoa, Guam and Saipan. However, 29th Brigade soldiers in California, Oregon and Minnesota will report to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, this week. The Schofield citizen soldiers will join them in October.

The entire brigade of nearly 3,500 soldiers will undergo its final combat certification at Fort Polk's Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana in January before beginning its one-year deployment in Iraq.

Hawaii Army National Guard


Day of tears

Some 2,000 members throughout
the state leave for training and then
for combat in Iraq in February

As he reported for duty at Fort Shafter yesterday morning, Len Tanaka fulfilled the legacy set 62 years ago by his grandfather, who was one of the original members of the 100th Battalion.

Tanaka, 19, was among 2,000 citizen soldiers of Hawaii's 29th Infantry Brigade who reported for duty around the state yesterday to prepare for combat duty in Iraq.

Tanaka, a 2002 Waipahu High School graduate, said his grandfather, Asao Tanaka, "was really quiet about his wart-time exploits. He never talked about them."

Asao Tanaka was part of the World War II combat unit composed mainly of Japanese Americans who volunteered after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor to prove their loyalty. The 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most decorated unit of its size in that war.

Len Tanaka is one of the youngest members of the 100th Battalion's Delta Company, 1st Platoon.

Asked if the thought of combat duty ever crossed his mind when he enlisted in the Army reserve during his senior in high school, Tanaka said: "Kind of ... sort of ... no, not really."

One of the oldest members of Delta Company is Pfc. Abel Williams, 50, who re-enlisted in the Army Reserve two years ago because he needed another eight years to qualify for a 20-year military pension.

"I lucked out earlier," said Williams, a plumber in civilian life. "I missed the Vietnam War and Desert Storm because although my division was tapped to go, my battalion wasn't."

Len Tanaka, left, and Adrian Carlos compare cameras as they prepared to leave yesterday morning.

After reporting in at 6 yesterday morning at Fort Shafter, members of Delta Company began what will be part of their life for the next 18 months -- packing, repacking and going through packing lists and unit rosters.

By this afternoon, they will be joined by members of their mortar platoon from Hilo at Schofield Barracks B Quad.

At the National Guard Armory at Hilo Airport yesterday morning, Sgt. Ray Kitagawa said the call up changed his wedding plans. Kitagawa, 40, hadn't planned to be married until next year, but he got married just two weeks ago.

When he got his marriage license, there was a line of other guardsmen preparing for similar hurry-up marriages.

"It is stressful. You have to get all your things in order," Kitagawa said.

Born in Hilo, Kitagawa got a master in divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, serves as a minister at Palolo Valley Ministries, and has regularly done his Guard training on the Big Island.

The moral question of firing a weapon in a war occurs to him. "That's an individual decision," he said. Kitagawa is a medic, hoping to become a chaplain, he said.

Sgt. First Class Richard Matsumoto, 44, of Hilo, has mixed feeling about being called up. He's likely to miss his 9-month-old daughter's first steps and her first birthday. He'll miss his 16-year-old daughter's graduation from Keaau High School.

But Matsumoto has hearing problems, which means there is a 10 percent chance that he may not be sent to Iraq. That's the other side of the mixed feelings. He's been with the Guard 27 years. "I want to go. I want to be with the rest of the guys that I train with. This is what I've been training for all this time," he said.

Will his hearing prevent that? "They've been doing a lot of medical waivers," he said.

Family members of the 29th Brigade's 100th Battalion drove their spouses and family members to Fort Shafter Flats as early as 6 yesterday morning and hung around as long as possible to savor their goodbyes.

Those feelings of aloha and sadness were repeated yesterday morning in Army National Guard armories and Army Reserve centers throughout Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana islands, California, Oregon and Minnesota.

The farewell in the Fort Shafter parking lot was painful for 9-year-old Amy Lynn who watched her father -- Spc. Howard Lopes -- trudge to Delta Company's orderly room laden down with his duffle bags and ruck sacks.

"It's tough," said his wife, Losa, trying to hold back the tears.

Lt. Col. Alan Ostermiller, the 100th Battalion's new commander, spent the weekend in American Samoa meeting with the 200 soldiers he commands and their family members.

Before he left on Friday, Ostermiller, a 1982 Kamehameha Schools graduate, said it was his belief that "we need to affirm our commitment to do our best to bring those soldiers back safe and sound and to ensure that those families there know that we care."

On Maui, as 70 members of the Hawaii Army National Guard Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry and their families gathered at the armory in Kahului yesterday morning, some businesses and agencies were trying to adjust to a reduction in their workforce.

Abel Williams and Len Tanaka were among the 100th Battalion soldiers reporting for active duty yesterday at Fort Shafter.

Already short staffed with about 60 vacancies out of 350 positions, the Maui Police Department has seen four of its personnel called to duty in Iraq this year, including a detective.

Maui Deputy Police Chief Kekuhaupio Akana said 22 people in the department are either in the guard or the reserves but most of them are in the Hawaii Air National Guard, which has not been called to duty in Iraq.

Akana said the department was stretched thin however, and if there is a demand for patrol officers, it could begin to pull officers from other duties, including the vice division and school resource officers.

The Maui soldiers will report to Schofield Barracks on Oahu on Friday.

On Kauai, soldiers of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry Regiment began their tour of duty in a manner so typically "Army" that all they could do was laugh about it.

About half the unit showed up at the Hanapepe Armory yesterday morning for a scheduled 7 a.m. formation. They were the ones who "didn't get the word" that the formation time had been changed the night before to 9 a.m.

They handled it like veterans: Plenty of restaurants in Hanapepe and two hours for breakfast. They all piled in a few cars and headed for town.

"The young troops are ready to get going," said Sgt. First Class Phillip Kamakea, who is assigned full time to the armory. "The older guys aren't quite as revved up but this is what they've been training to do for many years."

There is a very distinct pride in Company A about being an infantry unit.

"A lot of people don't want any part of the infantry. They enlisted to be truck drivers" said one 17-year sergeant. "But the infantry is the engine that drives the whole machine. That's who we are and that's what we do."

Company A's schedule for the first day also was typical "Army." The Guardsmen spent the day on an inventory of what soldiers call their "TA-50." Common Table of Allowances 50 outlines the personal field gear issued to each soldier: One helmet, one pistol belt, one sleeping bag and so on.

If a soldier is missing an item, he pays for it and is issued a new one.

"We're taking it all with us," Kamakea said. "You never know if they'll have enough waiting for us at Fort Bliss."

The 29th Brigade, the largest unit in the Hawaii Army National Guard, was last called to combat duty in Vietnam in 1968, but only 40 percent of the unit went to war.

It will do its pre-deployment training at Schofield Barracks, Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas and Fort Polk in Louisiana.

By January, National Guard leaders believe, the 29th Brigade, with the reinforcement of citizen soldiers from other states, will move into Iraq with about 3,500 soldiers. The brigade could be deployed to Iraq by February.

Star-Bulletin reporters Rod Thompson, Gary T. Kubota and Anthony Sommer contributed to this report.

Hawaii Army National Guard


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