Kuwait awaits Isle Guard unit
POSTED: Monday, October 20, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas » They're ready to go.
Poised at the country's largest Army post, more than 1,700 soldiers from Hawaii are completing two months of drills and will leave for Kuwait beginning next week.
THE POST WITH THE MOST
Fort Hood, Texas, is the largest Army post in the United States and the only two-division post in the United States.
Commanding general: Lt. Gen. Rik Lynch
Location: Halfway between Austin and Waco, about 60 miles from each.
Namesake: Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood—commander of Hood's Texas Brigade.
Population: 54,699 soldiers and 5,151 civilians
Size: 214,968 acres (Five times the size of District of Columbia)
Units: III Corps, 1st Cavalry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 13th Sustainment Command
Source: U.S. Army
On Wednesday, the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team, augmented by another 500 soldiers from the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Fires Brigade, an artillery unit, will take part in their official farewell ceremony at this sprawling installation.
In December, the brigade's battle flag will be unfurled in Kuwait, signaling the beginning of a nine-month deployment.
Nearly a dozen Hawaii employers and civic leaders, including U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and state Sen. Mike Gabbard, will attend the ceremony, the last official stateside event before the soldiers go on a four-day pass.
Col. Bruce Oliveira, commander of the 29th Brigade, yesterday told the civic leaders that his unit will have three missions in Kuwait: providing security at several Kuwaiti bases and escorting civilian and military convoys going into Iraq.
Oliveira said the 29th Brigade, which includes 500 Army Reserve soldiers from the 100th Battalion, will officially take over the mission now performed by the 37th Brigade Combat Team from the Ohio Army National Guard.
The 29th Brigade was mobilized in August, just 20 months after returning from Iraq and its first activation since the Vietnam War. During the 1968 mobilization, 29 soldiers were killed in Vietnam.
Of the 1,700 soldiers from Hawaii who are being sent to Kuwait, more than 84 percent are on their second combat tour.
Some, like Spc. Kellen Concepcion, 24, have made more than two tours.
Concepcion, a 2002 Pearl City High School graduate, will be going to Iraq for the fourth time. He deployed to Iraq as a Marine in 2003, 2005 and 2006.
Concepcion joined the 29th Brigade in March, although he knew it had been alerted to go Kuwait.
"I had gotten married and had started a family," said Concepcion, an iron worker in civilian life. "I wanted to be near them. But I just love deploying and so I joined the Guard."
The high percentage of combat veterans helped the brigade prepare for its wartime deployment, Oliveira said.
"It only took us 36 days to get validated," said Oliveira, a former Department of Education vice principal.
By contrast, it took 80 days for the Ohio unit to get certified, he said.
He said the mobilization process at Fort Hood went smoothly.
"Our concern is for those we have left behind—our families," he said. "It's very difficult for them. We owe a lot to our families."