GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Staff Sgt. Alan Allosada, a helicopter refueler, spent time with his grandson C.J. Tadiarca-Warner yesterday at Wheeler Army Airfield before embarking on his third deployment to Iraq. CLICK FOR LARGE
Isle troops to prep for Iraq in Oklahoma
Hawaii's citizen soldiers start 18 months of Iraq duty
The latest wave of citizen soldiers was to leave Hilo today, first to Oklahoma for three months of training and then on to Iraq for a yearlong deployment.
The 70 Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers and three of their seven UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were boarded onto an Air Force C-5 Galaxy jet cargo plane. Its destination is Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where the soldiers will train to prepare for Iraq.
The unit, which is affiliated with Alaska's 207th Aviation Regiment, also is the last National Guard or Reserve unit required to perform 18 months of active duty.
HILO » The last combat unit from the Hawaii Army National Guard is set to leave here today to begin nearly 18 months of active duty, including 12 of them in Iraq.
Nearly half of the 70 soldiers in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, are from Honolulu.
Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, state adjutant general and their commander, said 20 percent of the citizen soldiers have already served either in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The unit and three of its seven helicopters were to be sent today to Fort Sill, Okla. The rest are to be sent later this week.
There is at least one Vietnam War veteran in the group: Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Mochizuki.
When Mochizuki went to Vietnam nearly four decades ago, he was a door gunner in a UH-1 Huey helicopter with the 4th Infantry Division. He returns to Iraq as a helicopter door gunner, but this time in a UH-60 Black Hawk.
At 58, Mochizuki acknowledged that one of his duties will be "to keep track of all the young kids. It's the first time away from home for many of them. It's up to old-timers like myself to take care of the younger guys."
Several of them, including Staff Sgt. Alan Allosada, Spec. Tiffany Lum, Staff Sgt. John Lowe and Spec. Benjamin Jury, have been in Iraq before.
For Allosada, a helicopter refueler, this is his third Iraqi tour of duty.
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Oahu members of the Hawaii Army National Guard boarded a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at Wheeler Army Airfield yesterday en route to joining the rest of their unit in Hilo. The company was to leave today for training in Oklahoma. CLICK FOR LARGE
He was sent to Logistical Support Area Anaconda near Balad with the Hawaii Army National Guard's Charlie Company, 193rd Aviation, in March 2004. He volunteered to remain in Anaconda when his unit left, and he was assigned to the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team. He returned home in February 2006.
"It's like a regular job," said Allosada, a 1980 Nanakuli High School graduate.
With each new mission, "you just get more aware," he said. "Main thing, you stay alert."
Lowe, 43, served in Iraq in 1991 during Desert Storm and returned in 1993 with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Cavalry, out of Fort Hood, Texas.
This time, he recruited his 21-year-old son, Pfc. Cody Lowe, who eventually hopes to use the Army National Guard's tuition waiver program to obtain a college degree and become a Black Hawk helicopter pilot.
His father, who is a quality assurance supervisor at Wheeler Army Airfield, said "this is the best thing" for his son. "He can do whatever he wants to to succeed."
Among the 70 citizen soldiers are several like Staff Sgt. Maurice Aquino, who has been a citizen soldier for 27 years but has never been called to active duty.
"We knew it was going to happen sooner or later," said Aquino, a 1980 Castle High School graduate. "It's a good feeling since we have a lot of support from my family and our community."
The Hawaii Army Guard's helicopter unit is the last unit in the active Army and the Army National Guard to be called to active duty. The unit, which is affiliated with Alaska's 207th Aviation Regiment, also is the last National Guard or Reserve unit required to perform 18 months of active duty.
Under new rules drafted by the Pentagon earlier this year, National Guard units will be allowed to spend five years without an overseas deployment after their first combat tour. However, even that rule had to be waived since the Army is stretched so thin, and four Army National Guard units -- Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio and Oklahoma -- were recalled yesterday to active duty beginning in December on a staggered basis. These units have already served in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005.