Army Reservist Rodney Bars, wife Nicole and baby Isaiah enjoy time in the family's Ewa home before he deploys to Iraq.

Christmas gains
poignancy for

Iraq-bound soldiers will miss
the holidays in Hawaii next year

Isaiah Bars is barely 4 months old, and today is his first Christmas.

For him and other children, today is a special day, although Isaiah may be too young to realize its greater significance this year.

But his parents, Rodney and Nicole Bars, of Ewa Beach, do.

They won't be together as a family next Christmas. His father will be in Iraq.

Army Spc. Rodney Bars, 25, is a logistical specialist with the 411th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy).

Nor will Staff Sgt. Scott Strong be celebrating Christmas 2004 in his new four-bedroom Ewa Beach home with his wife, also an Army reservist, Staff Sgt. Sandra Strong, and their four children.

Scott Strong, 31, took leave from his civilian job as a physical therapy assistant at Hale Nani nursing home to finish the home in time.

"It was supposed to be a surprise," said Strong, a construction supervisor and squad leader with the 411th. "But I needed the help of my sons to get everything done and to move as much as we could."

Bars and Strong are among 350 members of the 411th from Oahu, Maui and the Big Island who will spend a year in Iraq as part of the 1st Cavalry Division, possibly in or near Baghdad. The activation is the largest since the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade was called to the Vietnam War in 1968.

The couple was married after the 411th was placed on alert just before Thanksgiving.

But Nicole Bars, 18, said their marriage vows weren't prompted by the call to active duty.

"He had already asked me before all of this took place," she said.

"I was kind of shocked when he told me he was going to Iraq," she said. "I had mixed feelings. I was kind of sad. ... I didn't want him to go, but I knew he had to."

Although she has known her husband since she was a student at Pearl City High School, "I never thought anything like this would happen."

Even Rodney Bars, who joined the Army Reserve in 1997, a year after graduating from Pearl City High School, never expected to be activated.

"I'm a little excited," said Bars, who received active-duty orders in early December as a member of the 411th's Headquarters Company "to help with the packing." He left his civilian job with the Navy commissary.

"I'm also anxious, and I know it is something you have to do," he said. "But it's still hard to leave your family."

Other than five months on the mainland to attend basic training in South Carolina and advanced infantry training in West Virginia, Bars has never been off the island.

"I know I'll miss my family, friends and plate lunches with chicken katsu," he said.

Nicole Bars said they don't plan to do anything special today.

Her husband just wants time with his family and "to cherish the moment," knowing that he will apart from his family next Christmas.

Nicole Bars said her family has spent Christmas Day in the past at an aunt's home in Mililani.

"This year we decided to go to the Makaha Sons concert at the Blaisdell the weekend before Christmas as a family," she said.

The couple doesn't plan to exchange any expensive gifts this year.

"I am just going to get him things he will need there, like shirts," Nicole Bars said.

"He had wanted a good watch," she added, "but that can wait until he gets back."


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