'I WANT TO SERVE MY COUNTRY'
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Matt Uelese kissed and held his daughter, 4-month-old Caydence, yesterday as 58 Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers gathered with family and friends before boarding buses to get on planes headed for Afghanistan. CLICK FOR LARGE
Isle guardsmen deploy to Afghanistan
The 58 soldiers volunteered for the yearlong tour
SURROUNDED by family, Danen Holi-Kunishige dug into his lunch plate piled high with maki sushi, Chinese noodles, chicken and manapua.
For the 20-year-old soldier, it was the last chance to eat some local grinds before departing yesterday for a one-year deployment in Afghanistan.
The infantryman with the Hawaii Army National Guard's C Troop, 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry, was one of 58 soldiers who left the islands to fight in Afghanistan.
All of them volunteered for the Afghan assignment, with 40 or so of them already having served nearly a year with the Hawaii Army Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq in 2004.
They will be assigned to the 29th Brigade's subordinate unit -- the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, belonging to the Arizona Army National Guard -- and will spend the next three months at Fort Bragg in North Carolina training for the Afghan deployment.
Under a new policy announced last week by the Pentagon, the Hawaii Guard soldiers expect to be on active duty for only a year, compared with the 29th Brigade, which spent nearly six months training for its Iraqi deployment and then another 12 fighting in Iraq when it was ordered to active duty. The new policy also would mean extra pay for National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers activated more than once in six years.
Spc. Kevin Napoleon, who has been a Honolulu Police Department officer for 15 years, said he volunteered in November after being released from active duty because he believed he could make a difference.
"I want to serve my country," said Napoleon, 36. "Not enough people volunteer in this day and age."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Guardsmen posed for a group photo yesterday before heading out on buses. They will be assigned to the 29th Brigade's subordinate unit -- the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, belonging to the Arizona Army National Guard -- and will spend the next three months at Fort Bragg in North Carolina training for an Afghan deployment. CLICK FOR LARGE
Although his wife, Jennifer, has mixed emotions about her husband leaving for his second combat tour, she supports his decision.
"He's doing what he thinks is right," said Jennifer, who is taking a temporary leave from her job as an office administrator to take care of the couple's two children, Christian, 8, and Dylan, 4.
Dawn Kunishige of Lawai said her son wanted to join the military "since he was a small boy. ... He even wanted to volunteer for the National Guard the first time it went to Iraq, but I kept him back."
Spc. Holi-Kunishige, a 2005 Kauai High School graduate, said rather than wait for the next mobilization, he volunteered because "I just wanted the experience."
The Iraqi veterans in Holi-Kunishige's unit and those deploying with him advised him "to be safe and to keep my eyes open."
Maj. Gen. Vern Miyagi, who once commanded a battalion in the 29th Brigade and rose to lead the Hawaii Army National Guard, asked the Iraqi veterans in the deployment "to take care of the guys going to war for the first time."
Napoleon, who joined the Hawaii Army Guard two years ago after serving eight years in the Marine Reserve, said Afghanistan can be just as dangerous as Iraq.
"You are going to take the same kind of hits (in Afghanistan)," said Napoleon, who was assigned to the Alaska Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry, in Baghdad. "There are people still dying there. There are still IEDs (improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs). There're still the ambushes."
Jane Miyasato, mother of 2nd Lt. Eric Miyasato Jr., who commands the group of Hawaii volunteers, said she asked him "if he was crazy to volunteer." Eric Miyasato answered, "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the National Guard."
"It helped me get a bachelor's degree. It got me an Army commission," he said. "It was time for step forward and volunteer."