FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii Army National Guard troops returning from the Middle East were treated to a ceremony and family reunion yesterday at the Kalaeloa National Guard Facility. Pearlena Stone, left, and Carrie Takenaka prepared decorations for the homecoming and reunion with their husbands, Sgt. Shane Stone and Chief Warrant Officer Owen Takenaka.
Families greet guardsmen returning from Iraq
About 230 members of the 29th Brigade are feted at Kalaeloa
Hawaii National Guardsman Sgt. Kama Emmsley will have to stick to a very strict itinerary on his first week back from Iraq, his family jokes.
"We're going to go to the beach," said Emmsley's wife, Kanoe, "and eat lots of local food." The 27-year-old soldier will also get acquainted with his 4-month-old daughter, who was born while he was at war.
More than 230 Hawaii Army National Guard members returned to the islands from Iraq at about 10:30 p.m. yesterday and were greeted in a large Kalaeloa hangar by about 500 family, friends and dozens of "Welcome Home" signs.
They are the first batch of guardsmen with the 29th Brigade to return. A second group of about 236 soldiers was scheduled to return early today. By the end of the month, the brigade's more than 2,000 members are set to be home.
The 29th Brigade was sent off at a ceremony in October 2004 at Aloha Stadium which more than 7,000 family members and friends attended. At the farewell, Gov. Linda Lingle said she would remember "Hawaii's own -- the 29th Brigade" at every public function she attended.
The 29th Brigade has lost 17 soldiers in the war. One of the guardsman who died, Sgt. Deyson Cariaga, was from the islands.
Kanoe Emmsley, along with more than a dozen family members, wore a shirt with a photo of her husband as they waited for him to get to the hangar last night, following a landing at Hickam Air Force Base and a military debriefing.
They also held homemade signs with pictures of musubi, macadamia nuts and other Hawaiian food favorites. "Never forget where you're from," one of the signs read.
At the rear of the hangar, Kara Ching sported a shirt with her husband's face. A dozen members of her family wore them, too.
The teacher's assistant at Kapolei High School said her husband's deployment has been hardest on her kids, ages 16, 13, 12 and 8. "They took it hard," she said.
Sean Lyons held a pink stuffed monkey tight under his arm as he walked into the Kalaeloa hangar last night. The Big Island resident had flown in from Hilo for his daughter's homecoming and was set to spend much of today with her.
He said the year she has been away has been spent waiting and worrying.
"It was hard," he said as he rolled up a sign that read, "Welcome Home Chere Rae." The 23-year-old was a junior in college when she was deployed. She is not quite sure whether she will return to school, her father said.
"She wants to just come home."