STAR-BULLETIN / AUGUST 2007
Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers heading to Iraq and Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom salute during a deployment ceremony at Schofield Barracks.
State’s Guard unit reportedly will head out to the Mideast
Duty in Afghanistan or Iraq could come by next summer
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The Pentagon is preparing to alert eight National Guard units -- including one from Hawaii -- to be ready to go to Iraq or Afghanistan beginning late next summer, the Associated Press reported yesterday, citing unnamed defense officials.
But Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, commander of the 6,000-member Hawaii National Guard, said he has not been given any official alert notices.
"If we know anything, I will let our troops and their families know first, and then the public," Lee told Hawaii media in a conference call. He said that until a few weeks ago the Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team was slated to deploy to Bosnia three years from now.
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Maj. Gen. Bob Lee says Hawaii has not received any official notification that its major combat unit -- the 29th Brigade Combat Team -- will be tapped for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan beginning next summer.
Lee, who commands the 6,000-member Hawaii National Guard as state adjutant general, was responding to an Associated Press report yesterday that the Pentagon was about to alert eight Army National Guard units, including one from Hawaii, to be prepared to go to Iraq or Afghanistan.
He said that until a few weeks ago the 3,000-member 29th Brigade Combat Team was slated to deploy to Bosnia three years from now.
"These plans are constantly changing, and I don't see Bosnia on the horizon," added Lee.
Lee said he does not know of any pending alerts involving the 29th Brigade, which returned to Hawaii in 2006 after spending a year in Iraq. During its 10 months in Iraq, 17 29th Brigade soldiers were killed, one of them from Hawaii and the rest from California. In all, 29th Brigade soldiers were awarded one Legion of Merit medal, 201 Bronze Stars and 123 Purple Hearts.
Besides Hawaii, the news report said the affected National Guard units will be from North Carolina, Oklahoma and Illinois. The news service quoted defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the orders had not yet been signed and the announcement is not expected until the end of this week.
Lee said he called the adjutant general of the North Carolina National Guard, who also did not know of any pending mobilization alerts.
"We are both out in the cold," Lee said.
According to defense officials cited by the AP, seven of the units would deploy to Iraq, and one to Afghanistan. Altogether about 13,000 soldiers would be affected.
Two of the National Guard units would be full combat brigades heading to Iraq beginning next summer and into 2009, to serve as part of the rotation with active-duty troops, the AP reported. The other five going to Iraq will be much smaller brigades tailored for specialized support operations, mostly security and detainee operations.
Lee said that under the Pentagon's current policy, the 29th Brigade is supposed to be off any mobilization list until 2010.
Currently, one of the brigade's two battalions is on active duty on the Afghan-Pakistani border. That unit -- the 600-member 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry -- is comprised of soldiers from Arizona and is not expected back home until early 2009.
Other Hawaii Army National Guard units in Iraq are the Black Hawk helicopters and crews belonging to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, and the 12th Personnel Services Detachment.
When the 29th Brigade returned to the islands, it had to leave about 30 percent of its trucks -- mainly re-armored Humvees -- and other equipment.
Since then almost all of the Humvees and radios have been replaced, Lee added, in part because of the need for the National Guard to respond to natural disasters.
However, there are still shortages of night-vision goggles and certain guns and weapon systems, Lee said.
As of this summer, the Associated Press said, more than 185,000 Guard members had served in either Iraq or Afghanistan over the past six years, and more than 28,000 of them had been deployed more than once.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has committed to having Guard soldiers serve in war zones for no more than one year, including the final training time before they leave.