Fired up


POSTED: Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gunshots echoed in a massive field at Schofield Barracks as Hawaii citizen soldiers trained with different weapons to prepare for their deployment to Afghanistan.

Today was to be the last day of live-fire training, part of a 15-day pre-mobilization for the 230th Engineer Company of the Hawaii Army National Guard.

Citizen soldiers from Maui and Oahu will spend time with their families during the holidays before mobilizing at Schofield Barracks on Jan. 10. At that time nearly 180 soldiers, including 35 reservists from Montana and the Pacific Army Reserve's 411th Engineer Combat Battalion, will converge to train for more than a month before their yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.

This is the first deployment for the entire unit. Some, however, were previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005.

The unit will be led by Capt. Anthony Tolentino, 33, an electrical engineer who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2005. Tolentino, of Hawaii Kai, said he noticed more support for soldiers this time around with more preparedness programs and plans for immediate reintegration upon their return.

The unit's deployment is not part of the planned influx of U.S. forces announced by President Barack Obama at the beginning of the month.

Mark 19s or automatic grenade launchers, .50-caliber and M240 machine guns were some of the weapons the soldiers trained with yesterday. Normally, soldiers in this unit would not shoot with those types of weapons, only M-16s. “;They need to be able to protect themselves in case something happens,”; said Capt. Jeff Hickman, spokes-man for the Hawaii National Guard.

“;This is an engineering unit, not infantry,”; said Hickman. A mix of engineers, electricians and carpenters makes up part of the unit, whose prime responsibility is construction work that might include building roads, buildings and guard towers. “;They have almost twice the responsibility,”; Hickman added.

Soldiers spent the last two weeks training from dawn way past dusk. Shots were fired yesterday at targets set up about 10 football-size fields away.

Soldiers are also preparing for the long separation from family.

Sgt. James Hokoana of Makawao, Maui, has been spending lots of time with his 15-year-old, Shelden. Hokoana, a roofer, said he plans to bring his laptop on his first deployment to Afghanistan to keep in contact with his son.

“;We'll communicate as much as we can,”; he said. “;I'll still be a part of his life, half a world away.”;

Spc. Lahela Sylva-Kanagusuku, 20, of Pearl City put her studies at Leeward Community College on hold for her first deployment.

To make it easier to be apart from her parents and three brothers, she already packed photos of her family as well as li hing mui powder, Spam and other comfort goodies.