Hawaii Army National Guard Maj. Margaret Rains, commander of Bravo Company, 193rd Aviation, and 1st Sgt. James Ballie, senior enlisted member of the unit, pose near their unit's banner in Afghanistan.

No holiday off
for Hawaii troops

Army Guard soldiers in Afghanistan
will be working on Christmas

Christmas for the 62 Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers in Afghanistan will be just another workday of round-the-clock operation maintaining helicopters.

Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, state adjutant general, spent two days visiting with members of Bravo Company, 193rd Aviation, who have been in Afghanistan since mid-August.

Lee said in a phone interview Thursday night that morale is high among the Hawaii soldiers but that most are asking the same question.

"They want to know when they will be coming back, and we are checking into that," he said.

Lee said the unit is expected to spend at least nine months in Afghanistan, which means the soldiers will not be back until April or May at the earliest.

In the meantime, another 200 soldiers from the 193rd -- all members of Charlie Company -- will have been deployed to Iraq. Those pilots, crew chiefs, mechanics, fuelers, cooks, medics and supply specialists will go on active duty next month at Wheeler Army Air Field preparing for their year in Iraq.

The Iraq deployment also will include the Hawaii Army National Guard's 14 CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

Lee said when his soldiers arrived in Afghanistan in August, the mercury climbed to 130 degrees but now hovers at 9 degrees.

"There was a warm spell when I was there," Lee said. "It was 30 degrees for a couple of days."

"There's no snow, but a lot of dust everywhere. ... The conditions are brutal, with all that dust making it a challenge to keep the helicopters flying."

The Hawaii mechanics are servicing Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. The Hawaii unit was augmented with mechanics from the Idaho National Guard whose job is to maintain the attack AH-64 Apache helicopters from New Mexico.

"The hours are long, averaging 12 to 14 hours per shift, 24 hours a day," Lee said.

Except for some time off to call home, Christmas Day will be "just another workday."

"Everything seems under control, and from the military perspective, everything is being done to keep the pressure on with day and night helicopter operations," Lee said.


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