COURTESY SGT. 1ST CLASS CURTIS H. MASTSUSHIGE
Col. Bruce Oliveira, left, new commander of the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, stands at attention with Maj. Gen. Bob Lee and Brig. Gen. Joe Chaves. Lee is commander of the Hawaii National Guard, while Chaves is the head of the Hawaii Army National Guard. CLICK FOR LARGE
Isle Guard gets Iraq gear back
The Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team has gained back almost all of the equipment it was forced to leave behind in Iraq, says Col. Bruce Oliveira.
Oliveira assumed command of the 3,000-citizen soldier force on June 23, replacing Brig. Gen. Joe Chaves, who remains as the head of the Hawaii Army National Guard.
The 29th Brigade was activated for the first time since the Vietnam War in 2004 and spent nearly five months preparing for its wartime mission. During its 10 months in Iraq, soldiers were awarded one Legion of Merit Medal, 201 Bronze Stars and 123 Purple Hearts.
When it returned last year, it left about 30 percent of its trucks and heavy equipment in Iraq.
"We've gotten back 90 percent of our equipment," said Oliveira, 52, who was a Department of Education counselor until he went to work full-time with the Hawaii Army National Guard two years ago.
Oliveira, who joined the Army Guard in 1978, said one of the reasons Hawaii was able to draw all of its equipment so quickly is because of the need to respond to natural disasters like a hurricane.
"We're fortunate," Oliveira added, "because we are designated as a hurricane state, we had a higher priority in getting our equipment."
Oliveira is confident that his unit is ready to tackle any state mission, especially when it comes to responding to natural disasters.
That was particularly true last year when Army National Guard soldiers had to respond to flooding caused by the heavy rains and a break in a natural dam on Kauai.
As for recruiting and retaining its troop level, the 1972 Kamehameha Schools graduate said, "We in Hawaii look pretty good."
Oliveira said the 29th Brigade has "about 95 percent" of its authorized 1,910 soldiers for Hawaii.
The brigade is also composed of an Army Reserve unit, the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, which draws soldiers from American Samoa and the neighbor islands. Its other combat unit is the 1st Battalion,158th Infantry Regiment, from the Arizona Army National Guard.
Oliveira said his goal is to be at 125 percent above his authorized strength.
Since returning to its home station at Kalaeloa, the 29th Brigade has been evolving into to a leaner and more self-sustaining infantry unit. It will become one of 34 brigade combat teams in the Army National Guard's arsenal.
It has shed its affiliation with the 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry, from California, and replaced it with the 1st Battalion,158th Infantry, in Arizona. It will also lose its air defense missile unit from Minnesota and another one from Oregon, but it will assume control of a signal unit and its military intelligence company will double in size.
Next summer, Oliveira said he expects that all of his brigade units, with the exception of the infantry battalion, will train together for the first time since its Iraq deployment at the Big Island's Pohakuloa Training Area. The Arizona battalion, now deployed to Afghanistan, will be completing its active duty tour, exempting it from further training requirements.
Oliveira said he doesn't expect the 29th Brigade to be mobilized again until 2011, staying within the current Army training policy, which gives the 29th Brigade a six-year break between active duty deployments.
Oliveira, who is married to Jeanne Miyamoto -- Miss Hawaii in 1985 -- said he never considered making the Army Guard a career. The couple has three children in high school.
"I joined primarily for the challenge and because I felt it was my duty," he said. "I just took it one year at a time and the time went by quickly."