Saturday, August 21, 2004

Sgt. Keola Kosuga spent some time yesterday with his Maui family before departing with Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers for Oahu and eventual deployment to Iraq. Next to him was his wife, Aidel, daughters Tiara, left, and Kayla, and son Noah.

Maui families bid aloha
to departing Guard

70 soldiers report for training
on Oahu before being deployed
to Iraq in February

KAHULUI » Orlando De Leon sent one of his sons to fight in Iraq last year, and yesterday, he sent another. But the father now questions the continued occupation.

To help

Donations may be made to Na Leo O Na Ohana Koa, a family support group for Maui National Guard members, at 111 Puukani St., Kahului, HI 96732; or call 357-0039.

De Leon said he thinks U.S. troops should come home because they cannot change the attitudes of the Iraqi people.

"My reason is the mission is done already," said De Leon, a Kahului resident whose 25-year-old son, Spc. Marvin De Leon, returned to Maui in October after serving several months in Iraq.

"They got Saddam and his sons. I don't think it's a threat to America. It's a different culture than ours. No matter what, we can't change their minds."

His 21-year-old son, Sgt. Paul De Leon, who works in the freezer department at Morrad Foods Service Inc., was among 70 Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers who left Maui yesterday. They reported for physical examination and training at Schofield Barracks on Oahu with other 29th Infantry Brigade members, who are headed for Iraq.

In all more than 2,000 isle Guard soldiers and reservists attached to the Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade have been called to active duty and are expected to go to Iraq in February.

Families were given special passes to say goodbye to the soldiers of the Company C, 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry in the lobby fronting the gates to the passenger jets.

Some gathered in prayer, while others cried and hugged as the soldiers stood in line for departure.

Crowds of people, including tourists, joined in spontaneous applause as soldiers boarded three Hawaiian Airlines jets.

Sgt. Keola Kosuga, a security officer at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel, is leaving behind his wife, Aidel, and his children: 6-year-old Noah, 3-year-old Kayla and 2-year-old Tiara.

Kosuga said he felt it was his duty to serve.

"We have a job to do. We've trained for this for years," he said. "Once we're finished, we'll come back. It's a great honor to serve our country and the state of Hawaii."

Nelia Molina said she had a hard time saying goodbye to her youngest brother, Staff Sgt. Marlon Domingo, who works as an irrigation supervisor for Maui Pineapple Co.

"We hope they stay safe until they come home," Molina said.

Molina said yesterday not only marked the departure of Guard soldiers, but also the 50th wedding anniversary of their parents, Fermin and Marcela Domingo.

Kihei resident Tharon Vella said she feels sad about the departure of her 31-year-old son, Spc. John Clemens, who works as a service station mechanic.

"I know God will protect him and keep him safe, and I'm really proud that he's going to protect our freedom," she said.

Seven family members gathered to say their farewells to Sgt. Justin Lampitoc, a carpenter for Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co.

"It's a job, an obligation," said Lampitoc, standing next to his grandmother Catalina in a wheelchair.

His mother, Estrelita, said the family never thought Justin would be called to active duty to serve in Iraq.

"I really didn't want him to go, but we have no choice," she said.

Nora Asuncion, a volunteer for the family support group Na Leo O Na Ohana Koa, said a number of the soldiers have left wives and children facing military income lower than civilian pay.

Asuncion said besides gathering to support each other on Christmas and birthdays, the group will be raising funds for airline tickets so family members can be with the soldiers in Honolulu in October before they leave for more training on the mainland.

Asuncion, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Ron Asuncion, is a member of the brigade, said the group is accepting donations that will be used to augment the income of some families.

"That's what we really need -- donations," she said.

Hawaii Army National Guard



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