IN THE MILITARY
COURTESY OF HAWAII NATIONAL GUARD
Hawaii Air National Guard members in the 154th Security Forces Squadron serving at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, are pictured. In the front row are, from left, flag bearer Master Sgt. Edgar Langston, Tech. Sgt. George Egloria, Staff Sgt. Robert Kim, Staff Sgt. Kalani Kaikala, Senior Airmen Christopher Ulu, Nicholas Lovan and Parrish Sinn, and Tech. Sgt. Gary Oshiro. In the back row are Senior Airmen Shon Kele, Brandon Popa and Salofi Leasiolagi, Master Sgt. Kalani Makaneole, Senior Airman Shane Gloor and Staff Sgt. Ryan Ramoran-Schreiner.
Advancing the Cause
Hawaii's Guard will leave Afghanistan improved, the chief says after a visit
The head of the Hawaii National Guard says there is a greater number of soldiers from allied countries in Afghanistan since his last visit two years ago.
"There is a more visible presence, with Australians, Canadians and Brits," said Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, state adjutant general.
"I guess they're working to the transition where NATO will assume a larger burden in Afghanistan at the end of 2006," Lee said.
During a telephone interview from Kandahar on Friday, Lee said he was impressed by the way soldiers of the Afghan National Army have progressed.
In Qalat, New Mexico Army National Guard soldiers are embedded with members of the Afghan National Army, training them to take over.
"The Afghan National Army is fearless," Lee said. "They won't run away from a fight ... they certainly have the will to fight the Taliban."
If anything, the Afghan army just needs to refine its tactics, Lee said.
Lee spent three days in Afghanistan this week visiting with 13 members of the Hawaii Air National Guard's 154th Security Forces Squadron at Bagram Air Base and soldiers of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 117th Public Affairs Detachment and 298th Engineer Company at Kandahar.
He was accompanied by Command Sgt. Major Vernon Nakasone and heads of the New Mexico and Tennessee national guards.
Lee was supposed to have made this visit during the Christmas holidays, but was pre-empted by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and other Pentagon officials.
His last visit was just before Christmas 2003, when he visited soldiers of Bravo Company, 193rd Aviation, who were stationed at Bagram.
Lee said about half of the Hawaii Air Guard security members spent about a month last year in Indonesia after the devastating tsunami before deploying to Afghanistan for six months.
"Their spirits are really good," he said, despite having to spend the holidays away from home. "Typical local guys -- they set up a volleyball tournament and won it."
He said the Hawaii Army Guard journalists assigned to Kandahar are responsible for putting out the base newspaper and the coalition's newsletter.
Lee said that although Hawaii Army National Guard engineers are based in Kandahar, they regularly send teams of soldiers to various outlying forward operating bases to fortify their facilities.
Their other major task was to build a road through mountainous Afghan terrain connecting Kandahar to Tarin-khot.
"It took the most of the year," Lee added. "Early in the war, the area was the scene of heavy Taliban action. It was a tough time, but they got the job done."
Lee said the family members of soldiers in the 298th can take comfort that until the unit returns in March "all of their projects will be near Kandahar."
He said Afghanistan still resembles "one huge Pohakuloa" -- a reference to the dusty, desert-like conditions at the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area, where the Hawaii Army National Guard annually spends two weeks in training.
"Actually, it looks better than Pohakuloa. It has shrubs and some bushes, but it still looks desolate."
Already the mercury dips to the low 20s at night, Lee said, as Hawaii's citizen soldiers begin their last winter in Afghanistan. "In the days, it warms up the 40s, but that still is cold."