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Citizen soldiers prepare to return


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POSTED: Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hawaii's citizen soldiers of the 29th Brigade Combat Team are preparing to come home.

However, unlike in past years the 1,700 citizen soldiers will have to make a brief layover at Fort Hood in Texas before returning to Hawaii.

Officials haven't said when the 29th Brigade will leave Kuwait, but the unit is expected home in August after completing its third wartime deployment.

The 2,500 National Guard soldiers from Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota, South Dakota and Alabama, who will replace Hawaii's 29th Brigade, arrived at Fort Hood in late April to complete their mobilization training before flying to Kuwait. The Wyoming brigade will hold its farewell ceremony on June 21 and is expected to be in Kuwait in full strength by mid-July, according to a Wyoming brigade spokeswoman.

Joan Yamamoto, the National Guard's family program assistant, said the Hawaii Army National Guard is holding briefings over the next few weeks on all islands to let families know about the layover.

When the brigade left Iraq in 2006, the citizen soldiers flew directly to Hawaii and were released from active duty here.

Yamamoto said the change may be hard for many families, especially children. “;They have certain expectations,”; Yamamoto added, “;since they have been through it before.”;

The Hawaii Army National Guard plans to hold its major welcome home ceremonies about a month after the soldiers' return, giving the families and soldiers time to get re-acquainted. The Oahu ceremony is planned for Sept. 20 at the Oahu Convention Center.

Maj. Pam Ellison, a 29th Brigade spokeswoman, said this week, in an e-mail, that “;the 'torch party' (a very small cell) of the (Wyoming Army National Guard) 115th Fires Brigade soldiers will begin operating within our headquarters this week, with the “;advanced party”; and “;main body”; arriving at varying times over the next several weeks.

“;We are excited to have them hit the ground here and are prepared to ensure that they have the training and appropriate 'battle hand-offs' to make certain that they hit the ground running and are able to seamlessly transition into our missions at all the commands throughout Kuwait.”;