Returning soldiers renew family bonds


POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2009

Albert Iokepa Jr. clasped his hands below his chin yesterday when he saw his son Spc. Albert Iokepa III at attention in a brigade that just returned from the Middle East.

“;He's home. He's safe. I'm happy,”; Iokepa said. “;I missed him every day.”;

The homecoming for about 190 soldiers with the Hawaii National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team brought about as much relief to the soldiers' families and friends as to the soldiers, happy to leave the 130-degree heat of Kuwait.

The rest of the brigade, about 1,500 Hawaii civilian soldiers, will return this week. During the 10-month deployment to Kuwait, the brigade provided security for convoys from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Hundreds cheered yesterday as the soldiers marched into the receiving area in Kalaeloa.

Among them was 3-year-old Kiara Leigh De Guzman, perched in the arms of her parents' friend because her mother and father were returning from Kuwait.

Kiara pointed to the candy bar in her mom's lei.

“;She just needs to warm up,”; said her mother, 26-year-old Wienee De Guzman.

Her father, Nelson De Guzman, said, “;We can touch her now instead of just talking to her on the Internet.”;

While both De Guzmans were deployed with the 29th Brigade, a circle of friends and family helped care for Kiara.

“;It's been a struggle for the family, but their military life is our family life,”; said Cherelyn Jacobe, 27, Wienee's older sister. Jacobe and her mother took care of Kiara during the deployment and said the support of friends had been essential.

“;It's been a long, long, long year,”; she said. “;Now it's like a dream, like it was just yesterday that they left, and now they're back.”;

The experience gave her a taste of being a mother, a path she does not want to pursue.

She said it was a sacrifice for both parents to leave, but her sister would not have gone without the strong supporters.

Her sister also inspired her to join the military, and she became an Army reservist.

“;Nobody knows what kind of experience you have (as a military family), unless you're a military family,”; she said. “;It's their livelihood.”;

Carlos Tapia, 25, and Sisylina Peterson, 22, who began dating last year, found the deployment stressful on their relationship, having to deal with the dynamics of co-workers, average 11-hour days and time apart.

“;I can't imagine what it would be like for families that were separated, like husband and wife,”; Peterson said.

The couple met during preparations to mobilize. In Kuwait they lived in different camps and could see each other only on Sundays.

“;It was a good deployment,”; Peterson said. “;It's just going to get better.”;