"I have never seen so many destroyed trucks and equipment in my life just on the side of the road."
1st Lt. Kimo Watson
On the road to Baghdad
COURTESY OF THE U.S. ARMY RESERVE
Army Reserve Command Sgt. Major Ray Irie, left; 100th Battalion commander Lt. Col. Alan Ostermiller; 411th Combat Engineer Battalion commander Lt. Col. Jonathan Wung; and Maj. John Stibbard, 411th executive officer, met Saturday at Camp Liberty on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, near the Baghdad International Airport.
1-year tour in Iraq
Most of the 3,500 isle Army
National Guard members
arrived Monday in Baghdad
Nearly all elements of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade have entered Iraq, ready to begin a yearlong combat mission.
Maj. Chuck Henry Anthony, Hawaii National Guard spokesman, said the majority of the 3,500 members of the 29th Brigade -- with 2,200 of them from Hawaii and the Pacific area -- arrived in Baghdad on Monday.
One unit -- the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery -- will remain in Kuwait to provide security. "It also has sent a small element to Qatar as a security force," Anthony said.
Heading into Iraq, the soldiers of the 29th Infantry Brigade prayed together, hugged each other then mounted their vehicles.
"As the drivers started their engines and the gunners manned their turrets, other members of the 100th Battalion formed up and sang their rousing regimental song, 'Go For Broke,'" said Capt. Kyle Yonemura.
Sgt. Mark Reed played the song on his bagpipe.
"It was a moving scene as soldiers first sang, then cheered the convoy as it pulled out, with Reed piping 'Scotland the Brave' on his bagpipe," Yonemura said. "Some of the gunners held up small American flags as they passed the cheering group of soldiers."
The 29th Brigade's three combat battalions -- the 1st Battalion, 299th Infantry; 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry, from California; and the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry -- have been assigned to the Baghdad area. In the same vicinity are soldiers of the 29th Brigade's 227th Engineer Company and the 29th Support Battalion.
Yonemura, a Honolulu police officer assigned to the 29th Brigade's Headquarters & Headquarters Company, said in a written statement that "morale was high" Feb. 16 when his convoy began the 400-mile trip to Logistic Support Area Anaconda, the unit's new base of operations.
"The convoy was escorted by 'gun trucks' belonging to Charlie Company of the famous 100/442 Infantry," Yonemura wrote. "Gun trucks are armored Hummers with turrets on top. The turrets are armed with an assortment of machine guns as well as M-19 automatic grenade launchers."
On Saturday, Lt. Col. Jonathan Wung, commander of the Army Reserve's 411th Combat Engineer Battalion, said he linked up with Lt. Col. Alan Ostermiller, commander of the 100th Battalion, who was passing through Wung's base camp near Baghdad.
Ostermiller and Wung are fellow University of Hawaii Army ROTC classmates.
"During our meeting, we had a very brief chance to reflect back to our ROTC days, and how amazing it was that we were standing here today serving in combat, as commanders of our battalions," Wung wrote in an e-mail.
He added: "With our nearly 11 months boots-in-the-ground in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, starting their deployment, our battalions are the two largest Army Reserve combat units from the 9th Regional Readiness Command and Pacific serving abroad."
In another e-mail to friends, 1st Lt. Kimo Watson, platoon leader in the Headquarters & Headquarters Company of the 100th Battalion, wrote that his unit arrived in Kuwait on Jan. 26 from Fort Polk, La., and were stationed at Camp Victory.
"Living conditions here at Camp Victory are a lot nicer than Fort Polk and Fort Bliss," Watson wrote. "Tents hold about 45 guys per tent, compared to 150 to 500 people per tent that we came accustomed to back in the states."
Watson wrote that his platoon arrived at Logistic Support Area Anaconda near Baghdad on Monday . "Man, what a drive that was," he wrote.
"We drove for two days, with a slight change in plans and route due to the Muslim holiday. We ended up just south of Baghdad, then driving east around. We drove for over 12 hours on the second day to keep on schedule.
"I have never seen so many destroyed trucks and equipment in my life just on the side of the road. Plus, the closer we got to Baghdad, the more we saw. Also saw a lot of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that were used on our route in the previous months. Just a lot of holes in the ground with blast patterns around them."