Christine Kekaula-Van Gieson poses with her husband, Spc. Alfred Van Gieson. His National Guard brigade is headed back to the Middle East again next year, this time to Kuwait.
Families greet news of deployment with resignation
When Christine Kekaula-Van Gieson heard that her husband's National Guard brigade was headed back to the Middle East again, she had a visceral reaction.
"After reading the newspaper, my stomach turned," she said yesterday. "I just don't want him to go. I understand that this is his duty and this is what he has to do. My own feeling is, I just don't want him to leave and be away."
Her husband, Spc. Alfred Van Gieson, who served as a scout during his first tour in Iraq, told her not to worry about rumors until he got an official call. That evening, the phone rang at their Nanakuli home.
"He got a call last night from his lieutenant," she said. "He's just on standby right now. I don't know what that means. A call to war is never a good thing."
The Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team will be sent to Kuwait next summer, Maj. Gen. Robert Lee announced yesterday. Until recently, Guard officials had expected the next deployment to be to Bosnia in 2010.
Alfred Van Gieson and Christine Kekaula-Van Gieson have been sweethearts since they were teenagers at Kamehameha Schools. He joined the Guard in April 2001, a week after they married. When his unit was activated in August 2004, their son, Makoa, was just 5 months old, and their daughter, Lilinoe, was in preschool.
By the time he got back from Iraq in January 2006, Makoa was almost 2 and Lilinoe had graduated from kindergarten.
"It was really hard," she said. "It was hard for her because he missed her preschool graduation and he missed her kindergarten graduation. We videotaped it and sent it up to him."
As news spread through the community yesterday, families braced for what was ahead. Shifting gears after combat duty takes time, and some returning soldiers have a tough time reconnecting with their loved ones. Many had hoped that the National Guard Bureau's goal of five years between combat deployments would be respected.
"We haven't even recovered from this deployment," said Brittany Yap, whose boyfriend served with the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry in Iraq from January 2005 to January 2006, but is now with the 29th Brigade. "We're not mentally and emotionally ready for another one. Most families are still trying to get back to a normal routine."
"We're one of the statistics," Yap said. "Lots of relationships fell apart after they came home. We called off our engagement earlier this year. We're trying to work it out, and now this happens. Everything has to be put on hold again, if they go."
Pam Lau of Aina Haina, the Family Readiness Group leader for her son's unit during its tour in Iraq, said they have received no official word about another deployment. Her son, Staff Sgt. Keenan Lau, is with the U.S. Army Reserves 100th Battalion, which is attached to the Hawaii Army National Guard 29th Brigade.
"It was very trying at times, and it was a long deployment," she said. "It was difficult but we managed. As a mother or a parent, you're not happy about it, but you have to support him if he ends up having to go again. I know this is what he signed up for. He signed up to be a good citizen and do his duty for his country."