Hawaii ties bind
sailors deployed
to Persian Gulf

"Da braddahs" of the
USS Constellation support
one another in the ongoing war

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

Amid the roar of fighter jets and the clamor of war machinery, the tinny strum of a ukulele is a welcome distraction for a dozen or so sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation.

It's a reminder of home -- of Hawaii and the Pacific -- half a world away from their current location in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Among the 5,000 people aboard the ship, the sailors from Hawaii and other Pacific Island territories share a special bond.

"We are like a big family, we look out for one another," wrote Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Mamac, 29, of Waianae, one of several island sailors who shared their thoughts about life on board the "Connie" with Associated Press via e-mail.

"It is nice to talk to someone who is from your hometown or high school," Mamac added. "It helps pass the time and takes your mind off of what is going on in the world when we get together.

"The boys here have a close relationship with one another."

Collectively, they are "da braddahs."

"The camaraderie between us guys is, well, we are like brothers that adopted each other while we are out here," wrote Petty Officer 2nd Class David P.E. Castro, 33, of Punaluu. "We are an ohana (family) away from our real ohana. We get along very well and watch each other as we would our own loved ones."

The seven-ship Constellation battle group left San Diego in November on a six-month deployment to the North Arabian Sea area before being called to the Persian Gulf for operations in Iraq. Its 72 Navy and Marine Corps aircraft took part in bombing runs earlier this month that were part of a widely heralded Pentagon effort to "shock and awe" the Iraqis.

Despite working long hours on little sleep, the islanders still try to make time for each other, whether it's to talk about the day's work or to just "talk story" over island favorites like rice and a can of Spam.

"There isn't much down time for us, but if we do get a chance to kick back we usually just watch a movie or play guitar or maybe even a game of cards or something," wrote Petty Officer 2nd Class Kurt M.K. Benzon, 31, a machinist's mate from Waimea on the Big Island.

"We all share the aloha spirit whether we are at work, on break, or on liberty," wrote Petty Officer 3rd Class Jerryl Kaipo Rita, 23, of Waianae and also a machinist's mate. "We let go by talking about 'da hannabaddah days' (childhood years), speaking pidgin or singing Hawaiian songs."

And as word of casualties and other setbacks reaches them, they are there to lean on each other, too.

"We have a very tight-knit Pacific Islander crew on board," wrote Petty Officer 2nd Class Feagaiga V. Tuisamatatele, 31, an aviation ordnanceman who was born and raised in American Samoa. His parents now live in Salt Lake on Oahu.

"We do everything together at work or out on liberty on previous and future port calls," Tuisamatatele said. "We do depend a lot on each other for some kind of support or sanity to keep us going and getting us through this ordeal."

Most keep up with the day's events through daily briefings and by watching the shipboard television network -- sailors can watch the same cable news outlets as the rest of us.

Down time is spent reading, studying, watching movies or working out, among other things.

"I try to keep myself busy by taking a college course and try to play my ukulele," wrote Petty Officer 3rd Class Arman Lagman, who directs aircraft in the ship's hangar bay.

Having free time also helps break up the monotony.

For Petty Officer 3rd Class Guysen Pauline, an aviation engineer from Waipahu, a typical work shift starts at 10 p.m. and finishes 12 hours later.

"Then standing in line at the gym waiting to work out, then taking a shower and going back to bed, then waking up and doing the whole thing back again," he wrote.

The sailors declined to discuss specific operations being carried out by the battle group, but most noted that the mood generally is upbeat.

"The mood has picked up since we first heard of our mission from the Commander in Chief," wrote Castro.

Added Mamac: "The mood on the ship has been a lot more busier than it was two months ago. But it has been an upbeat spirit because we all know that we are well trained."

But some also say that feeling homesick is only natural when you're 8,400 miles from home.

"The mood on the Constellation can be a calm one, with some showing some depression from being so far away from loved ones and even newborns that they have never met," Rita wrote. "I feel that all will be able to get by if they all had the 'Aloha Spirit."'

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Muasau, a 1995 graduate of Waipahu High School whose parents are from Samoa, likened the conflict to a game of golf that could end at any time.

"If we can hit a 'hole in one' in Baghdad, we can call it a day and hopefully come home to our loved ones soon," the aviation mechanic wrote.

"Homecoming is what the 'braddahs' and myself are planning for," Muasau joked as his writing lapsed into pidgin, "a small kine welcome home party for us and planning who going buy what, when we get there and what spots we going check out first, hahahaha.

"Man, just talking about it makes me homesick so I better stop here."

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