Soldier on Iraq furlough relishes family holiday
ARMY RESERVE SPC. Jeremy Mercado, a Big Island resident, says he has many reasons to give thanks today.
Mercado, 27, an administrative clerk with the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, has been deployed to the combat area in Iraq at Logistical Support Area Anaconda since Feb. 1.
Home in Kona for 15 days of rest and recuperation, Mercado said Thanksgiving at his home at Hawaiian Ocean View will be centered around his family.
"I am thankful for three healthy kids," said Mercado. "I am also thankful for a beautiful wife who continues to support me and my family while I am gone."
But Mercado, who joined the 100th Battalion in September 2000, also has experienced the tragedy of war. He was a friend of the latest two combat casualties suffered by the 100th Battalion -- Staff Sgt. Wilgene T. Lieto, 28, and Spc. Derence W. Jack, 31, both from Saipan -- who were killed in Balad on Oct. 31 when an improvised explosive device detonated near their Humvee during a patrol.
"They were happy-go-lucky soldiers," Mercado said, "but they never took life for granted."
Mercado has been serving with the 100th Battalion's Headquarters and Headquarters Company in Iraq since Feb. 1. The Army Reserve's 100th Battalion is one of three infantry battalions assigned to the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team, which could leave Iraq as early as the first week in January to return home.
More than 2,200 soldiers from the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team will miss spending Thanksgiving with family friends in the islands. There are also 1,000 Kaneohe Marines whose Thanksgiving will be celebrated in Afghanistan.
Mercado, a 1996 graduate of Big Island's Konawaena High School, said his Thanksgiving dinner will include many family members whom he has not seen for a long time. He will return to Iraq tomorrow.
He was one of the last persons from his unit to leave Iraq on 15 days' leave. "It's great to be home," said Mercado, who arrived in Hawaii on Nov. 10.
When he got back, Mercado spent time on Oahu, taking his two daughters -- Kaialee, 7, and Cadence, 2 -- and 8-month-old son Jeremy to Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park, Sea Life Park and shopping.
Today, he and his family plan to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast of turkey, prime rib, mashed potatoes and cranberries.
Mercado worked at a Big Island rental car company before his deployment and said his wife, Kimberlee, has been the rock of his family since he left.
He said he is grateful for the support of friends and spouses of the 100th Battalion during the past year. "They have supported each other in a way no other person could do."