Thanksgiving welcome awaits grandpa due back from Iraq
"PAPA KUNI" is coming home today.
It is a day that Sgt. Jacob Kuni's five grandchildren have been awaiting for 11 months.
Kuni, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 227th Engineer Company, is among 50 members of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team who are expected home this afternoon after participating in the unit's first wartime deployment since the Vietnam War.
Among the 50 citizen soldiers also will be members of the 29th Brigade's 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery, who have been in Kuwait since January.
On Thanksgiving the entire Kuni clan of nearly 70 will gather at Grandpa's home in Nanakuli to give thanks for his safe return.
"We'll have to erect a tent to accommodate everyone," his wife, Harriet, said last night, "but that's normal."
She said her Thanksgiving dinner will definitely include her husband's favorite dishes, pork wrapped with konbu (dried seaweed kelp) and sushi.
"He loves anything I cook," said Harriet, who has been married to the Army National Guard soldier for 41 years.
The two have three children and six grandchildren. Five of their six grandchildren live in the islands and have been eagerly awaiting their "grandpa's" return since January.
Last year, Kuni, 60, missed celebrating Thanksgiving while he was in mobilization training in Texas. He has served in the Hawaii Army National Guard for 25 years and is serving his first active-duty combat assignment.
The entire 29th Brigade is expected home by the end of January. The main body of nearly 500 citizen soldiers of the 487th is expected home as early as the beginning of December.
However, 101 soldiers in the 487th will not be home for another two months because they are assigned to the 29th Brigade in Iraq. They are attached 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.
During the 29th Brigade's deployment, one citizen soldier from the islands, Sgt. Deyson Cariaga, was killed in Iraq. Also, 16 soldiers from the brigade's California-affiliated unit were killed there, as were three Army Reserve soldiers who lived in American Samoa and Saipan and were assigned to the Hawaii unit.