Orders saddled on isle Guard
Families bracing for burden of mission
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Hawaii citizen soldiers have their marching orders -- Kuwait in 2008.
Official notification of the isle National Guard deployment next summer was met with a mixture of concern and acceptance by more than 2,000 soldiers and their families.
Sgt. Lance Sakamoto, a communications operator and maintenance specialist, said the Kuwait deployment caught him by surprise. But the 2002 Konawaena High School graduate said, "It was just a matter of time. No matter what, I will go, if I don't I will let a lot of people down."
Hawaii's congressional delegation, however, complained that the upcoming deployment comes too soon after the isle Guard's last wartime duty in Iraq, which ended in 2006.
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More than 2,000 Hawaii Army National Guard and Pacific Army Reserve soldiers can expect to spend 25 percent more time away from their families and their jobs between now and next summer as the 29th Brigade Combat prepares for its second war-time mission in the Middle East in two years.
More forces head out with 29th Brigade
The units deploying with the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team are:
» Headquarters, 29th Brigade Combat Team -- Kalaeloa
» 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion -- Kalaeloa
» 29th Brigade Support battalion -- Kalaeloa
» 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry -- Big Island, Kauai, Maui and Oahu.
» 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery -- Wahiawa
» 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry (Army Reserve) -- Fort Shafter
Other Hawaii citizen soldiers already on active duty include:
» Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation, in Iraq until next summer.
» 12th Personnel Support Detachment, in Kuwait and Iraq until next summer.
In 2004, the 29th Brigade and the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry was mobilized for 18 months to fight in Iraq. This time the mission is to provide a security force for Kuwait for 12 months, beginning in June.
Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, who leads the Hawaii Army and Air National Guard as state adjutant general, told reporters yesterday the increased training will mean at least two weekend drills a month and one annual training session lasting from three to four weeks instead of two.
Lee said Pentagon officials are hoping to come up with a compensation package because Hawaii citizen soldiers were promised up to a five-year break between deployments.
All of the pre-deployment training will be done at Schofield Barracks, unlike the first deployment's training when the soldiers were sent to Fort Bliss, resulting in complaints about the lack of equipment and inadequate housing.
When asked about a letter he sent to a local newspaper last year promising soldiers and families that the 29th Brigade would not be mobilized for five years, Lee acknowledged that he "doesn't feel good" about the change.
Lee got the official mobilization alert notice at noon on Thursday and under the Pentagon guidelines had 24 hours to notify his soldiers before releasing it to the news media.
As of late yesterday afternoon, many soldiers of the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, which is not part of the National Guard system, had not been alerted. That battalion has soldiers from Guam, Saipan and American Samoa.
Three members of Hawaii's congressional delegation -- Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Rep. Mazie Hirono and Sen. Daniel Akaka -- expressed concern over the redeployment of Hawaii's citizen soldiers because they are still missing equipment from the first Iraq deployment.
"Last October, Rep. John Murtha and I warned that National Guard units faced additional deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan because the active duty Army is too small to sustain President Bush's endless war," Abercrombie said in a written statement. "Despite our state adjutant general's protests that it could never happen, it is. Our warning wasn't based on inside knowledge or mysticism, just arithmetic," Abercrombie said.
Akaka added: "If the final determination is that these troops must deploy, it is imperative that each and every member is adequately equipped and properly trained to fulfill their mission."
The brigade has replaced 90 percent of the equipment it was forced to leave in Iraq, mainly Humvees and radios, but Lee said it still lacked machine guns and night-vision goggles.
Sen. Daniel Inouye said: "As a former combat veteran, I am well aware of the sacrifices that the Hawaii National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team made during its yearlong service in Iraq in 2005, and the additional sacrifices it is being asked to make once more with the order to deploy again to Iraq. As a senior member of the U.S. Senate who voted against giving the president the authority to invade Iraq and who has never been convinced that the administration made its case for going to war, I will continue my efforts to find a way for a phased redeployment of our troops from Iraq with us leaving the battlefield with honor."
Lee said the brigade will deploy to Kuwait without one of its combat units -- the 600-member 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry from the Arizona National Guard -- which won't be home from Afghanistan until next year. About 100 soldiers from Hawaii are assigned to the Arizona unit.
The slack in manpower will be filled by soldiers from Oklahoma's 45th Fires Brigade, "Red Thunder." One of the units of the 29th Brigade -- the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery -- was stationed at Kuwait Naval Base during the last deployment.
Lee said he wouldn't go as far as saying that Kuwait was a safer assignment than Iraq, but acknowledged that "there is less risk in my opinion."
But he noted that insurgents do not respect national boundaries.
"We will still be in a combat zone," Lee added. "We don't have a firm game plan about the enemy, so we have to fully prepare for Kuwait."
Col. Steve Logan, deputy brigade commander, said November will be spent revising the unit's training plans, which were built around a yearlong tour in Bosnia three years from now.
The 29th Brigade, with more than 1,900 soldiers, is about 95 percent of its authorized strength and Logan said he doesn't expect the numbers to drop because the soldiers who were going to leave the unit did so at the end of the first Iraq deployment in 2006.
The call-up means that 62 percent of Hawaii National Guard troops from the Air and Army National Guard will be available to assist in national disasters.