DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A deployment ceremony at Aloha Stadium honored 1,700 Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers from the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team who are leaving for Kuwait later this month. Cherie Anguay, left, her husband, Capt. Haz Anguay, and their two children, 16-month-old Cole and 3-year-old Skylah, hugged one another.
A fond embrace
Supporters salute and hug soldiers going to Kuwait
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Friends and family hooted and cheered yesterday while giving 1,700 soldiers in the Hawaii Army National Guard a raucous sendoff at Aloha Stadium.
Some 6,000 supporters watched from the stands as the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team marched onto the stadium's artificial turf for the hourlong ceremony before their deployment to the Middle East later this month.
Many screamed their loved ones' names. Others waved large signs saying "Go For Broke, Dad" and "We Love U."
At the end of the ceremony, the soldiers and audience linked arms in an attempt to set a new Guinness world record for the largest group hug.
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A stadium-sized group hug isn't a typical sendoff for soldiers.
But that's what Spc. Reupen Sheck and 1,700 Hawaii Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers got yesterday at Aloha Stadium.
"It's exciting but I don't know what to expect," Sheck said about his first deployment. "My whole squad are veterans from the last deployment, and it's good I have those guys to ask questions with and back me up."
Some of the soldiers will guard U.S. installations in Kuwait while others will protect convoys going into Iraq.
The brigade heads to Fort Hood, Texas, for two months of training later this month before leaving for Kuwait in October.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
More than 8,000 people took part yesterday in an attempt to set a new world record for the largest group hug following a Hawaii Army National Guard deployment ceremony at Aloha Stadium. Following the ceremony, Gov. Linda Lingle, right, hugged 11-year-old Punahou student Ashley Kakazu as Lt. Gov. James Aiona looked on. Ashley got the idea for the group hug when she received a hug from her mother as she was being tucked into bed one night.
The deployment comes just two years after the 29th Brigade's return from Iraq.
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, told the soldiers he understood what they were feeling as they stood at attention on the field.
"Sixty-five years ago, I said goodbye to my parents, my brother and sister, my loved ones. So I'm well aware of the emotions that run through you. The sadness and anxiety," Inouye said. "But please know that your service to our nation and our state is deeply appreciated."
Inouye then turned to face the soldiers and saluted them.
Gov. Linda Lingle presented the 29th Brigade's commander, Col. Bruce Oliveira, with a state flag that flew above the State Capitol on Aug. 1 so the Guard would take a bit of Hawaii with them.
Sgt. Joshua Akiona, a reservist, said the deployment provides another "good opportunity to do things for your country." It will be his second deployment.
The mission this time will involve guarding U.S. installations in Kuwait, while other units will provide security for units convoying north to Iraq.
"We're expecting it to be safer, although it will be in a larger area and will have more unknowns," Akiona said.
Akiona said the group hug was a special aloha that made him feel closer to his fellow soldiers. It was an attempt to set a new world record for the largest group hug.
The current world record was set in Mexico when 6,623 people hugged for 35 seconds.
The idea for the group hug came from 11-year-old Punahou School student Ashley Kakazu. It stemmed from a hug she received from her mother as she was being tucked into bed one night.
"When I felt all that warmth and love that she gave me, I wanted to share it with all," Ashley said. "It was great and exciting because I actually accomplished my dream. I'm so proud of myself."
Officials said more than 8,000 people participated in Hawaii's attempt, holding their arms around each other while entertainer Danny Kennedy sang "Spread a Little Aloha."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.