GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pfc. Chris Arakawa, center with leis, was surrounded by family members welcoming him home Friday at the Army Reserve Center at Fort Shafter. With him were grandparents Beatrice and Frank Matsuura; nephew Micah; mother Donna; and sisters Shari and Kirsten. It was Arakawa's first deployment with the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry.
Guard spans globe
Isle Guard members return from a mission to the Philippines
Even as Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team prepares for another deployment to the Middle East next year, its citizen soldiers are being called to fulfill other missions in the Pacific.
Thirty-one members of the 29th Brigade's 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry Regiment, are now on a six-month deployment in the Philippines serving as a security force for Joint Special Operations Task Force.
The Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers replaced members of the Pacific Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, who deployed in May to the southern island of Jolo -- a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group, known for kidnappings and bomb attacks.
On Friday, family members and friends gathered at the Army Reserve Center to welcome home the latest group of citizen soldiers returning from active duty.
Maj. Gen. Vern Miyagi, who serves as the Pacific Command's adviser on matters dealing with reservists and the National Guard, said the six-month deployment "was an important part of PACOM's (Pacific Command's) ongoing war on terrorism."
He told the crowd that when he checked on the activities of 100th Battalion from his headquarters at Camp Smith "every time the answer came back -- 'the Hawaii guys are doing good.'"
Two-thirds of the 29 soldiers belonging to the 100th Battalion's Delta Company are veterans of the Iraqi campaign, deploying with the 29th Brigade to Balad in Iraq in January 2005. The soldiers are awaiting word from the Pentagon that they will again be mobilized as a battalion of the 29th Brigade and will spend a year protecting various bases in Kuwait and also escorting convoys into Iraq.
Lt. Col. Mike Peeters, commander of the 100th Battalion, said, "We are preparing to go and continue to plan for it alongside with the brigade."
In October, the 29th Brigade received orders that will send its soldiers to the Middle East for the second time in two years. Hawaii National Guard leaders said this means its soldiers can expect to spend at least two weekend drills a month, instead of the customary one weekend, and one annual training session lasting from three to four weeks, instead of two, before they go on active duty next summer.
In 2004, the 29th Brigade and the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, were mobilized for 18 months to fight in Iraq.
In the Philippines, Capt. Haz Anguay, who commands Delta Company, said his soldiers were integrated into the teams of Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs assigned to Jolo.
"They were assigned to multiple camp sites," said Anguay, who deployed to Iraq with the 100th Battalion in 2005.
"They were kept very busy," Anguay added, noting the job of his soldiers was to help and assist the Philippine Army.
For Pfc. Chris Arakawa, a 2006 Saint Louis High School graduate, the deployment to the Philippines was his first since he enlisted last year.
"It was a good experience," said Arakawa. "It was an experience I needed. I was surrounded by soldiers who had already been to Iraq. It was good to get one deployment under my belt as I prepare for next year's assignment."
His grandfather, Frank Matsuura, said that after serving 20 years in the Army, which included the Korean and Vietnam wars, "I didn't want any of my children to go into the service, but that's what my grandson always wanted to do.
"He always wanted to be a soldier. He was a company commander in St. Louis' JROTC program and won numerous awards."
Donna Arakawa said the Army was always in her son's heart. "But it's a relief to have him back."
Sgt. Alfred Tachera, also an Iraqi war veteran, said he is looking forward to returning to his civilian job as a truck driver and spending time with his wife, Chelsey, and daughter, Laila.
"Being back is just awesome," said Tachera who has been a member of the Army Reserve for 10 years.