GREGG K. KAKESAKO /
Sgt. 1st Class Reginald Smith (standing on right) and Spc. James Escano instruct Pfc. Martte Fernandez on how to set the sights of his M249 SAW machine gun Friday at Schofield Barracks.
Citizen soldiers ready for Kuwait
Some members of the 29th Infantry Brigade will be escorting convoys into Iraq
More than 1,200 citizen soldiers in the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade completed the first phase of training this week at Schofield Barracks before a nearly yearlong combat tour in Kuwait beginning in October.
Lt. Col. Lionel Payes, the outgoing commander of the 1st Battalion, 487th Artillery, said most of the training at Schofield Barracks focused on more than 200 individual "warrior skills" -- ranging from marksmanship to first aid, land navigation and driving.
The driving and convoy operations skills will be important because 300 soldiers from the 29th Brigade's 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry Regiment, led by Lt. Col. Rudolph Ligsay, and 500 soldiers from the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Mike Peeters, will be escorting convoys from Kuwait into Iraq.
The rest of the 29th Brigade will be spread throughout Kuwait with some of the soldiers assigned to the security force protecting the naval base where members of the 487th Artillery were stationed three years ago.
Maj. Pam Ellison, 29th Brigade spokeswoman, said the headquarters of the 29th Brigade, led by Col. Bruce Oliveira, will be stationed at a new pre-positioning facility constructed by the Kuwaiti government at Arifjan, south of Kuwait City.
The Army said the purpose of the facility is to support its three major missions in Kuwait: to maintain pre-positioned equipment, supplies and materials; direct joint exercises with the Kuwaiti armed forces; and ensure the security of Kuwait
Sgt. Oliver Nanpel, a carpenter in civilian life, will be making his second trip to Kuwait with the 487th.
Although he didn't expect to be recalled to active duty so quickly, the 37-year-old guardsman said, "We're ready to roll when they call."
"Nanpel enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard 5 1/2 years ago when he was 32 -- just making the age requirement.
Being the oldest guy in his basic training class might have given him an edge, Nanpel said. "I was more calm and more relaxed than the rest of the guys."
"The 29th Brigade will begin its second two weeks of active duty at Schofield Barracks on July 21 which will end on Aug. 17 when another Aloha Stadium farewell ceremony will be held.
Following the Aloha Stadium event, the soldiers will fly to Fort Hood, where they will be reunited with 500 soldiers from the Pacific Army Reserve's 100th Battalion/442nd Infantry and 700 from 45th Fires Brigade -- an artillery unit belonging to the Oklahoma Army National Guard.
Ellison said the mobilization training at Fort Hood will focus on the brigade working as a unit. Of the 2,000 soldiers assigned to the 29th Brigade, about 1,700 will be mobilized for the 12-month deployment. In 2005, the last time the 29th Brigade was called to active duty since the Vietnam war, 2,300 soldiers, including members from the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion were mobilized. During that deployment all of the soldiers assigned to the 29th Brigade, except for the 1st Battalion, 487th Artillery, were sent to Iraq.
Since then some of the soldiers from the 29th Brigade volunteered to join one of its affiliated units -- the 1st Battalion, 58th Infantry from the Arizona Army National Guard -- when it was sent to Afghanistan last year.
Command Sgt. Maj. Virgine Kanoa has been in the Hawaii Army Guard for 26 years and recently became the first female to be the adviser to the commander of the 29th Brigade Support Battalion on the welfare of its enlisted soldiers
Kanoa said she views being called up as "just doing my job. I love it. I'll keep doing it until they kick me out."
"Pvt. 1st Class Martte Fernandez, 20, enlisted in Hawaii Army Guard after graduating from Nanakuli High School two years ago.
"I knew they were going to get deployed," he said, "but I just took my chances because I wanted to travel."
"Only one soldier -- Sgt. Deyson Cariage -- from Hawaii was killed when the 29th Brigade served in Iraq during the last mobilization. However, 17 other soldiers assigned to the 29th Brigade from American Samoa and mainland states lost their lives.