PHOTO COURTESY U.S. ARMY
Sgt. Semeli Toilol and Staff Sgt. Howard Lemalu, front, and soldiers of the 100th Battalion decorate their Christmas tree at headquarters at Logistical Support Area Anaconda, near Balad in Iraq.
100th Battalion marks Yule in Iraq
The unit decorates its headquarters in Iraq for Christmas, but will soon return to Hawaii
HOLIDAY LIGHTS and plastic Christmas trees adorn the headquarters building of Hawaii's famed "Go for Broke" battalion in Iraq as the soldiers celebrate their first Yuletide away from loved ones.
In an e-mail from Logistical Support Area Anaconda, located 50 miles north of Balad, Sgt. 1st Class Ryan T. Matsumoto said his thoughts this Christmas Day are "with my wife and son. I know it has been a long 18 months for her. I wish that I could be home and share Christmas and New Year's with them. Though I cannot be with them this year, I know that we will have a lot more Christmas and New Years to celebrate. So I just think about that to get past this holiday season, but I will be home very soon."
Last year the nearly 700 members of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, got to come home and spend the holidays in the islands during a 10-day break in training in December. Soldiers of the 100th are not only from Hawaii, but Guam, American Samoa, Saipan and numerous mainland states.
But this year, Matsumoto said, "I will celebrate Christmas with my Army family in Iraq. We have somehow gotten hold of Christmas lights and have the lights placed on trees outside of our battalion building. We also have a plastic Christmas tree with all the trimmings and have Christmas décor lining the walls. I think we are draining all the power out of the generators that provide our electricity. But that is okay."
Sgt. 1st Class Miles Morita, of Hawaii Kai, said for him it's New Year's and not Christmas that has a special meaning, because that "is a time to be with family -- reuniting and ono grinds.
"I just want to go back to a 'normal' life. Work on the car, visit friends, BBQ, have days off, and to do and go wherever you want to at the time."
Reflecting over the past 10 months, Morita said: "Overall, I think we did a very good job for the amount of time we spent in country. Ironically, we may have made a difference the 'Christian' way. By showing we care and are willing to better the lives of the Iraqis."
Having completed its last major mission -- providing security for the Dec. 15 Iraqi parliamentary elections -- soldiers of the 100th Battalion, along with other members of Hawaii's 29th Brigade Combat Team, have begun to prepare to return home with some soldiers returning before New Year's Eve.
Spc. Anthony Demapan said when he returns to Honolulu his only desire is "to relax, get together with family and friends. Maitai Bar. Find a job and a place to stay."
The main body of the 100th Battalion are expected to be back beginning the first weekend in January.
It will mark the end of the 29th Brigade's first combat mobilization since May 1968, when it was placed on active duty during the Vietnam War. Although the brigade remained at Schofield Barracks, many of its soldiers were sent to the war as replacements.
One of three battalions normally assigned to the 29th Brigade Combat Team, the 100th, when it arrived in Iraq in February, was placed under the operational control of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 100th Battalion will be replaced next month by 4th Infantry Division soldiers from Fort Carson in Colorado.
The 29th Brigade's 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry -- which is based in Hilo -- was placed under the control of the 18th Airborne Corps at Camp Victory near the Baghdad Airport.
Sixteen soldiers were killed in Iraq, the majority of them members of the 29th Brigade's third battalion, the 184th Infantry from California.
The only combat death involving a Hawaii soldier in the 29th Brigade was Sgt. Deyson "Dice" Cariaga, 20. He was killed July 8 when a homemade bomb was detonated near his Humvee in Al Hammadi.
Nearly 800 awards and citations have been awarded to the 100th Battalion since it was mobilized in August 2000. To date, at least 46 Purple Heart medals have been awarded.
More than 300 members of the 29th Brigade's 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery, returned earlier this month from Kuwait, where they were stationed since February. But 100 artillery soldiers of the 487th are still in Iraq because they were assigned to units of the 29th Brigade.