Sgt. Michelle Macea Astacio, above, spent a few last moments holding her son Dominic at the Kaneohe Marine base yesterday. Her husband, Pedro, right, also a Marine sergeant, is staying behind with the kids.

Tears flow at
Marines’ departure

Emotions run deep as a
Kaneohe battalion leaves on
its second deployment to Iraq

The commotion of people saying farewell and bags being loaded on buses in the Kaneohe Marine Station parking lot last night was distracting for 2-year-old Dominic and 1-year-old Franklin.

But Mama had tears in her eyes, and that's where their eyes kept returning.

Sgt. Michelle Macea Astacio tried not to make a drama of the farewell to her sons as she and other Marines in the 3rd Radio Battalion prepared to deploy to Iraq.

"They're too small to really understand," she said. "I'm sad to leave them and nervous because I don't know what to expect."

A Marine for six years, she faces her first foreign deployment. "When I joined, I knew it was possible, but I never really thought I'd be going. I'm sure we will be able to deal with whatever we need to," said the mechanic.

Marine Cpl. Gabriel Alrajhi waited for the order to load up.

Astacio added that she has slipped an extra cookie or juice to the boys in the past few days. She carried family photos, a journal and a cross from her husband as ties to the family.

"I'm going to keep them busy, at the beach and playing with other kids, the same thing as when Mom is at work," said Sgt. Pedro Macea Astacio, who will remain on duty in Kaneohe.

The only islander in the unit said: "I'm excited about it. I wanted to travel when I joined."

"I work with people with great experience," said Lance Cpl. Dan Andres, who joined the Marines 18 months ago after graduating from Farrington High School and trying "a couple of dead-end jobs."

He said his parents, Marciano and Estelita Andres, of Ewa Beach, "are very supportive of me."

Andres is in charge of embarking other troops, planning and preparing the equipment for each assignment. Tucked in his bag is a laptop computer and beef jerky.

Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, commander of U.S. Marine Forces Pacific East, told the troops that the war against terrorism in the Middle East "is at least as important as what we fought in World War II or the Cold War." The general moved through the crowd for one-on-one conversations.

Deploying Marine Matt Howard wiped away the tears of his girlfriend, Kanani O'Sullivan, as they said their goodbyes.

It is the second Iraq deployment in two years for the 3rd Radio Battalion, and a return trip for 50 of the 150 departing Marines, including the unit commanding officer, Lt. Col. Mark Aycock.

Aycock packed along a Hawaiian flag that flew over the unit's camp last year, and he will display it again "to remind ourselves of Hawaii," he said. Last year, each tent in the unit was given a Hawaii place name. Aycock said he always packs a stack of books, which, this trip, will include Homer's "Iliad" and "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius.

Julie Aycock, faced with her husband's third deployment to the Middle East in three years, is one of the base "key volunteers" who help other spouses cope with the separation.

"Whatever works for your family, I tell them to grab it with both hands," Aycock said. "If it means eating pizza every night for the next week, then do it."

Staff Sgt. Shannon Baker, heading for his third Middle East deployment, said he was disappointed at the turnaround after just five months back in Hawaii.

"I hope this is the last time. I don't want to go back for Iraqi Freedom No. 12."


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