Rainbows can appear anywhere
FIRST, Stephen Chinen has to get something out of the way:
"It's 1734 (5:34 Friday afternoon, local Iraqi time)," he writes in an e-mail, "which means it's 4:34 a.m., Friday (Hawaii time). Time to get up!
"Guess what? Some of you have already e-mailed me, telling me you saw me on the KGMB News last night, but if you haven't, and you wanna see what I look like these days with a shaved head, see the first attachment, 'TV Schedule for 657th.'
"But to stop the 'Stephen bashing' before it begins, let me say that I did two recordings of 'Hi, my name is ... .' One was to da family, of course, and I was told I could do another one, so I thought of da Rainbow Warriors football team. You know, so something different, out of the ordinary. Well, instead of showing both, it looks like KGMB decided to only show one and they picked the one with da BOWS! So, anyway, you know what went through Emi and Nikki's mind as they saw me on the boob tube.
"All the females are thinking, 'Oh, how terrible, dat Steve, thinking of da Rainbows and neglecting his family. Bad, bad boy!'
"But da guys are thinking (maybe), 'Yeah, go 'BOWS!' (If you are, then you're a bad boy, too!)
"I dunno, maybe the other TV stations will show da family one and spare me some more grief."
Yes, you guessed it. Steve is in the military. And he's in Iraq. And he and his fellow local servicemen -- in harm's way and a long, long, long way from home -- are the biggest, greatest, most passionate UH sports fans in the entire world.
THE 657TH ASG (Area Support Group) out of Fort Shafter is made up mostly -- about 75 percent, Chinen says -- of men and women from Hawaii, and filled out with others from around the Pacific Rim -- Guam, Samoa, Saipan, Alaska, Japan. The 657th is currently at Logistical Support Area Anaconda/Balad Air Base in Northern Iraq. It's basically a city (there are even neighborhoods). The base commander is the mayor. It's a huge hub for the U.S. military, for both people and planes. The 657th, Chinen says proudly, is, "involved with providing support for food, billeting, security, transportation and so forth."
Anaconda has been nicknamed "Mortaritaville" for the frequency of the rocket attacks. Chinen says the 657th has been lucky. No casualties.
"Things could be a lot more difficult for us over here," he says, "so I think twice before grumbling about anything."
There could be stuff to grumble about, if you looked. It's cold now in Iraq, believe it or not. The workdays are often 15 hours long. They are far from home, under stress, away from their families. They won't be home for Christmas. They won't be home for many months.
You look for things to hang on to, in situations like this.
Luckily, it's been a great 2006 for UH sports.
The Rainbow Wahine volleyball team rocked the place, pulled out a miracle against USC, was a win away from the final four. And football! Every week, Hawaii won again. And again. It was wonderful.
"It gives us one more thing to talk about among ourselves, further strengthening the bonds between us," Chinen says. They had arrived in Iraq as braddahs. Now they were brothers. And, oh, wow, UH had just done it again!
They would brag to the guys in other units, the guys from Texas and Michigan, North Carolina and California. The excitement kept building, every week.
"Go 'BOWS!" Chinen says.
His title is SFC 657th ASG Chaplain, which means he's a senior assistant chaplain on the base. He's up at 0430. "I hardly spend any time at my hooch anymore, except for sleeping," he says. His job? Morale. "We do this by providing religious, spiritual and moral support in all ways possible," he says.
This includes talking about UH football. You'd better believe it does. That's definitely part of it. These guys -- these Hawaii soldiers in Iraq -- are the biggest, greatest, most passionate UH sports fans in the entire world.
THEY GET THEIR UH sports news in all kinds of ways. From family, through e-mail, the Armed Forces Network, the Internet. Chinen's brother sends him "Leahey and Leahey" broadcasts on DVD. He once tried to watch a replay of "The June Jones Show." The computer crashed. Maybe the file was too big. Maybe it was too much to ask.
But the word, as it so often does, gets there most often by mouth. With every Hawaii win, excitement rippled through Anaconda as the 657th's coconut wireless spread the news: "Ho, you heard?"
And they would gather, and talk story, and celebrate, and for a moment all was right with the world. UH had won again.
And then at last, after all those weeks, the news was even better, even bigger: the place had been rocking, as Hawaii pulled it out against Purdue. At long last, Aloha Stadium was full again.
With that news, "that great feeling just quadruples!" Chinen says.
He'd grown up in Kalihi, joined the Marines, went to UH on the GI Bill. Fifteen years into teaching he wanted to become a counselor, joined the Army Reserve. It's how he was able to go back to UH to get his master's. It's how he's in Iraq today.
We tend to overemphasize sports sometimes, in our society. A guy who's catching grief for saying "Go 'BOWS!" instead of thanking his wife knows that most of all. Of course Hawaii winning 10 games isn't the only thing keeping them going. Of course there are things far dearer to their hearts.
"I have one big favor to ask," Chinen says. "In the article you're writing, could you please put in a line somewhere about, 'As much as I miss seeing da Bows this season live, it doesn't come close to my missing my wife, daughter, mother, family and friends. And as great a support da Bows have provided me this season with respect to my morale over here, it doesn't come close to da support my family, friends and the 657th Family Readiness Group has provided me.' "
No, of course not. Our people in harm's way, a long, long way from home know this most of all.
But they also know this -- every little thing helps.