FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Caitlin Constantino was happy to see her dad, Sgt. Froilan Constantino, who was holding his other daughter, Melanie, early yesterday.
Families get early present as soldiers return to isles
Every time the phone rang at home, 16-month-old Archie Tumaneng of Waianae thought it was his dad, Staff Sgt. Arwin Tumaneng, calling from Kuwait.
"That's because he used to call every other day," Arwin's wife, Liezel, said late Monday night as they patiently waited at the physical fitness center at Schofield Barracks for the first large group of Hawaii citizen soldiers to return from combat duty in the Middle East.
At 11:44 p.m. Monday with the theme song from the movie "Rocky" blaring in the background, more than 300 soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery, and a detachment from the 227th Engineer Company marched in to a cheering crowd of spouses, family members and friends.
The soldiers are part of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team, which was called to active duty in August 2004. More than 2,200 Hawaii citizen soldiers were deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.
This was the Hawaii Army National Guard's first major war time mobilization since the Vietnam War.
Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, commander of the Hawaii Army and Air National Guard, noted that the unit was home early because it was relieved early by members of Wisconsin's Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery, at Kuwait Naval Base. The Wisconsin soldiers arrived in Kuwait on Nov. 8.
Lee congratulated the soldiers, noting that they learned only during the last month of training in January 2004 at Fort Polk in Louisiana of "their unusual mission," which was to protect the main supply lines used by coalition forces.
They also were used as a security force in southern Kuwait at Camp Patriot at the Kuwait Naval Base and Camp Spearhead at the seaport of debarkation.
Lt. Col. Keith Tamashiro, commander of The Hiki No (Can Do) battalion, said none his soldiers suffered major injuries during the past 11 months.
"I brought them home safely," said Tamashiro. "We all came back."
Both Tamashiro and Lee noted, however, that 100 members of the 487th will remain in Iraq through the Dec. 15 national elections since they were assigned to other units of the 29th Brigade.
"They'll be in back in mid-January ... No one wants to stay there during the Christmas holidays, but I told them, we're going to save the big party until they come back."
But some of the private parties will begin this week.
The family of Spc. Sebastian Feary, a 2002 Moanalua High School graduate, will host a party at an Aiea restaurant for members of his Charlie Battery as well as for a belated celebration of his 21st birthday.
"It was difficult," said Feary, whose studies at Leeward Community College were interrupted by the mobilization last year.
"Both emotionally and physically ... but with courage, motivation and the help of my buddies I came home safely with 10 fingers and 10 toes," Feary said.
Eight-year-old Gene Navarro III said he hopes his father, Spc. Gene Navarro Jr., will just "take him to get Icee" at the mini-mart near his home in Mililani.
Holding his son in his arms, Arwin Tumaneng said: "He seems to have forgotten me already. Nevertheless, it's great to be home -- to be with my son and my wife before Christmas.
"It was tough dealing with the weather and the people. It was a challenge."
Among the well-wishers was Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa and Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi and their staffs because among the 300 citizen soldiers were two firefighters and five police officers.
On Nov. 17, the first 76 soldiers from the 487th Field Artillery and the 227th Engineer Company returned as part of an advance party that is expected to help the other returning soldiers adjust to civilian life when they come off active duty in January.