[ IN THE MILITARY ]
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Janet Maeshiro helped her daughters, Joeylynn and Kimiye, write a letter to their father, Hawaii Army National Guard Capt. Grant Maeshiro, at Ala Moana Center on Friday. He is assigned to Camp Victory in Iraq with the 29th Brigade Combat Team's 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry, and isn't expected home until after the new year.
A Longer Wait
101 soldiers with an isle artillery battalion learn their Mideast tour will stretch beyond Christmas
THERE'S A SENSE of joy and disappointment among the nearly 600 family members of the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery, assigned to the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team in Kuwait and Iraq since January.
That is because 101 citizen soldiers from the unit won't be home for the Christmas holidays, although most of their fellow soldiers will be in the islands enjoying the season with family and friends.
These 101 citizen soldiers are assigned to several other units in the 29th Brigade Combat Team, which isn't expected to leave Iraq until late January or early February.
Iwie Tamashiro, whose husband, Lt. Col. Keith Tamashiro, commands the field artillery battalion, said the anticipation of the Hawaii soldiers returning from combat has been tempered because not all of the battalion will be back.
"It's mixed feelings," said Tamashiro. "We're feeling terrible that not all of the soldiers are coming home. There will be no battalion welcome-home party until the entire battalion is home."
Janet Maeshiro, whose husband, Capt. Grant Maeshiro, is assigned to the 29th Brigade's 2nd Battalion at Camp Victory in Iraq, added: "For us, it's so unfair, but we'll get through it. Times does go by fast."
Marie Fuata, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Norbert Fuata, is a fire support observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 29th Support Battalion at Logistical Support Anaconda near Balad, plans to go to her home in Colorado to spend Christmas with her family.
"It's tough," said Fuata, who has been married for two years. "There's only the two of us."
Pat Anderson, a retired Waipahu High School teacher, said even though her son, Maj. Dan Okumura, will be back for the holidays, Christmas plans are on hold.
"He told us, 'Mom, this year the plan is no plan since we don't know how long the demobilization will take,'" Anderson said.
Last year, Anderson said her family flew to Seattle to spend Christmas.
"Dan was home and that was the first time in five years that we were able to spend Christmas together," Anderson said.
Anderson said her family normally gets together on Christmas Day at her home in Mililani.
Tamashiro said her family will host a second Thanksgiving dinner at her Wahiawa home after her husband returns.
LAST YEAR, buoyed with donations, she and other members of the battalion's family readiness group took kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, poi and chicken long rice to a Thanksgiving meal for more than 450 487th soldiers training in El Paso.
This year one of their first priorities is to send 101 care packages, consisting of Hawaiian Sun juices, island cookies and coffee and snacks, to the 101 soldiers of the 487th who won't be home for Christmas.
In addition, each of the 101 packages will include a letter of greeting gathered on Friday and Saturday at Ala Moana and Windward Oahu shopping centers.
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Iwie Tamashiro, left, and Marie Fuata manned a table at Ala Moana Center, where family members of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery, solicited letters of support for the islands' citizen soldiers in Iraq, who hope to be home by late January.
Over this Veterans Day weekend, spouses and family members of soldiers in the 487th Field Artillery set up tables at the two malls as part of Operation Uplift, soliciting postcards, letters and other items of support for island troops in Iraq.
"The letter-writing campaign was begun just as the troops reached their midway point this summer," Tamashiro said, "so they won't feel that they were forgotten. It was done to try to keep their spirits high."
"Because of the Veterans Day holiday, we thought it would be good time to go to the malls to give the community time to express their support, since many will be thinking of veterans they know."
Steve Aguisanda, who served in Saudi Arabia as a Marine in 1994 and in Afghanistan as a member of the Hawaii Air National Guard in 2003, said he was writing to thank the citizen soldiers.
"Thanks for protecting our nation and freedom," said Aguisanda as he watched 9-year-old son Jayman and 7-year-old daughter Jessica draw pictures for Hawaii's soldiers.
"It's a tough job. I am glad they are there. Just come home safe."
The advance party of 50 soldiers from the 487th are expected to be back in the islands before the end of the month. The rest of the unit, along with members of the 227th Engineers, should be back in Hawaii by the second week in December, depending on military transportation.
Since January, the bulk of the 487th was stationed in Kuwait, pulling security assignments at Camp Patriot near the Kuwaiti Naval Base and Camp Doha. Other soldiers were assigned to the 100th Battalion near Balad, the 2nd Battalion at Camp Victory and the headquarters element of the 29th Brigade at Logistical Support Area Anaconda near Balad.
Tamashiro said the soldiers from the 487th Field Artillery also want to be in on the planning of the homecoming celebration.
"The men want to express their thanks to everyone who has been in it for the long haul," Tamashiro said.