Across the sea


POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wearing a Santa Claus hat, Makiki resident Liz Baldwin wanted to maintain a cheerful disposition as she waited to speak to her son, Pfc. Travis Baldwin of the Hawaii National Guard, via a video teleconference from Hawaii to Kuwait.

But a few minutes into their brief conversation, Baldwin became overwhelmed with emotion as she tearfully told him how much she missed him. As she paused to regain her composure, her son said, “;Don't worry, I have an entire brigade watching my back.”;

Twenty-seven wives, mothers and grandparents spent their Christmas Eve in Gov. Linda Lingle's executive chambers at the state Capitol yesterday morning, wishing a Merry Christmas to their loved ones serving with the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

The brigade recently arrived in Kuwait for a nine-month deployment. Members are due to return to Hawaii in July or August.

Family members took turns greeting soldiers through the video feed from Kuwait to Kauai, the Big Island and the governor's executive chambers. Among the updates: rent payments and the upcoming births of grandchildren.

Tissues were plentiful as wives and mothers dabbed their eyes.

Lingle stopped by to greet the 29th Brigade members and their families.

“;I know this is the difficult time of the year to be separated from families,”; she said.

This is the first deployment for Baldwin's 21-year-old son to the Middle East. While proud of his decision to help defend the U.S., she is worried.

“;I want him to come home safe,”; she said.

April Ikeda, 24, and Lt. Christopher Ikeda, 28, blew kisses to each other and kept their brief exchange light-hearted. “;Merry Christmas. ... I don't like your haircut,”; she told her husband as she observed his flat-top crew cut. Christopher Ikeda laughed, saying he will grow it out once he returns home for R&R.

“;I love you,”; he said to his wife, telling her to give Toby, their doxie/terrier, a kiss for him.

The couple keep in contact every day, spending hundreds of dollars on text messaging, cell phone calls and video calls. “;It's expensive but it's worth it,”; said April.

The couple got married in February, a year after they met at Kalihi Union Church. While they had a small reception, April Ikeda is spending her time planning a large wedding reception, a healthy distraction, she said, as she awaits her husband's return.

The distance between them has been a struggle, April said, noting that her family members are in Oregon, where she is originally from. “;I'm trying to get through it,”; she said. Being around other wives whose husbands are also deployed in the Middle East has helped her cope and realize she is not alone.

“;I'm not the only one crying,”; she said.