GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Sgt. Stacy Garcia, holding a banner, led Pacific Army Reserve soldiers of the 411th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) to their first assembly on their first day of active duty yesterday at Schofield Barracks as they prepare for their year-long Iraqi deployment.
Army reservists gather
to begin training
The soldiers will train at Schofield
for the next two months
For the first time in nearly two decades, more than 500 citizen soldiers of the Hawaii Army Reserve's combat engineer battalion marched in unison yesterday as they began preparing for a year-long Iraqi deployment.
The 411th Engineer Combat Battalion, which has units on Maui, the Big Island, Oahu, American Samoa, Guam and Alaska, will be working together for the first time since the late 1980s, when they were part of "an external evaluation at Schofield, probably during annual training," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Wung, commander, who has been with the 411th since 1987.
However, 40 reservists from American Samoa probably will not be able to report in until tomorrow because of transportation problems caused by Cyclone Heta, Wung said.
Led by Sgt. Stacy Garcia, of Nanakuli, who carried the red banner of the battalion's Headquarters Company, the soldiers marched yesterday from Schofield Barracks' C Quad, where they will live for the next two months, to Smith Theater.
With "God Bless America" playing over the theater's sound system, the soldiers filed in and answered Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Irie's roll call. Some of them, like the members of Bravo Company, had arrived only a few hours earlier from Alaska.
Over the next few days, medical, dental and other personal records will be rechecked. The soldiers will be issued their desert camouflage fatigues and other combat gear. They will attend briefings and classes on Iraqi customs.
Starting Wednesday, the soldiers will report to the training ranges at Schofield, working on the skills they need to keep them alive in combat.
Wung described them as "survivability skills," including an added emphasis on weapons requalification.
Brig. Gen. John Ma, commander of the Army Reserve's 9th Regional Support Command, encouraged his soldiers, saying that although the transition from civilian to military life is tough, "it is better to do it as quickly as possible."
In his 10-minute address, Ma acknowledged that many of the reservists reluctantly answered the call to active duty and that many will be making substantial financial sacrifices during the coming year.
"We know why we are here," Ma said. "We're here because we are in an Army that is serving a nation at war. This is not a type of war we are used to in the past. It is a war on global terrorism."
Ma told the combat engineers that "winning the war in Iraq was relatively easy, but securing the peace will be harder."
The general warned the soldiers that Iraq is still a dangerous place and that they need to be careful.
"Pay attention to your training," Ma added. "It's a long road ahead and this is just a beginning.
"You can make your mistakes in training. You should train hard so you don't make the same mistakes when you get into theater (the war zone)."