Wednesday, October 6, 2004


Sgt. Randy Ramento, right, sitting in a bus, gave his son, Josiah Ramento, a kiss goodbye yesterday as his unit waited at Schofield Barracks to leave for the airport.

The desert beckons

More troops from Hawaii head for
training in an environment that
replicates their Iraq destination

A rocky and desolate Texas desert greeted Hawaii's soldiers of the Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade this week as they began four months of pre-deployment training for a year's combat tour in Iraq.

"People here say it's comfortable," said Maj. Dave Weisberg, commenting on the Texas autumn weather in El Paso by phone yesterday. "But being from Hawaii, I think it's cold."

Weisberg, who left Schofield Barracks Saturday as the head of the 100th Battalion's advance party, said there is at least a 20-degree spread in temperature from the evenings, when the mercury dips to 50 degrees at night, to the days when temperatures hit the high 70s.

Yesterday, the last large group of the 100th Battalion soldiers -- more than 230 -- and other members of the 29th Infantry Brigade left Schofield Barracks' B Quad to catch a commercial chartered jet for the 5 1/2-hour flight from Hickam Air Force Base to Fort Bliss, Texas.

At Fort Bliss, the Hawaii-based soldiers will be augmented with troops from the brigade's mainland units in Minnesota, Oregon, California and Minnesota.

Cheryl Tanaka gave her son, Spc. Len Tanaka, a hug before he left.

Weisberg said the 100th Battalion, with more than 676 soldiers, will be housed in a tent that can accommodate up to 1,000 soldiers. The soldiers will train in terrain and weather that is similar to what they will face in Iraq.

He said the unit will be on the portion of the 1.1 million-acre Army post that actually is in New Mexico, "just over the Texas border."

"The soldiers who are already there report that the chow hall and the food are excellent," said Maj. Mike Peteers, the 100th Battalion's executive officer.

The two forward operating bases replicate what Hawaii's soldiers will be living in when they get to Iraq, down to the concertina fences and guard posts, Peteers said.

As soon as they get there, the soldiers in these two forward bases will be operating exactly as they would in Iraq duties -- pulling guard duty and getting used to check who is authorized to enter the camp, Peteers added.

One of the first major training exercises will begin next week when the staff of the 29th Brigade starts combat battle simulation drills designed to help the leadership of the unit with its operations in Iraq, Peteers said.

Yesterday, emotions at Schofield Barracks ran high again as more 29th Brigade soldiers bade farewell to families and friends.

By tomorrow, all of the 2,200 soldiers from Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Saipan and Tinian will be at Fort Bliss for the second phase of their training. After a two-week Christmas break on Dec. 20, the brigade will report to Fort Polk in central Louisiana for a final month of evaluation before shipping out to Iraq in late February or early March.

Spc. Len Tanaka of the 100th Battalion was told by his mother, Cheryl, before he boarded the bus "to take care and be safe."

"I don't want him to take chances," she added. "It's hard to send him away, but that is what he choose to do."



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