Civilian life awaits
A Guard company is released after
serving in Afghanistan
A company of citizen soldiers in the Hawaii Army National Guard stood their last formation at Wheeler Army Air Field this morning and returned to being civilians again, after more than nine months on duty in Afghanistan.
But for the 56 members of Bravo Company, 193rd Aviation, their thoughts were with colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Just a month ago, five soldiers from the 193rd's other unit — Charlie Company — in Iraq, escaped injury when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in a sandstorm. So far, that has been the only major incident involving the aviators and mechanics from the Wheeler unit. Since April 14, Charlie Company — with 200 aviators and mechanics — has been in Balad, Iraq, attached to the 1st Cavalry Division.
Sgt. Gilbert Pascua, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard for 14 years, said such an incident affects everyone.
"They are our close friends," said Pascua, 35. "We knew for many years that the risk is very high — more so where they are than where we were in Afghanistan."
"They are flying more dangerous missions."
Brig. Gen. Vern Miyagi, commander of the Hawaii Army National Guard, said he noted with pride at each change-of-shift briefing, which he attended at the Pacific Command at Camp Smith, that "there was a flag of the Hawaii Army National Guard in the U.S. Central Command area of operations."
This morning, he asked the formation of soldiers "to support the families of the other members of their unit still in Afghanistan and to pass on what you have learned to soldiers who will be going."
Bravo Company commander Maj. Margaret Rains, who in civilian life is a nurse practitioner at the Department of Veterans Affairs primary care outpatient clinic, said all of her soldiers will be on military leave beginning today until the end of June. Her boss at the VA can't wait to get her back, said Rains, who is an Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter pilot.
Cpl. Mabel Requilman, the company's supply clerk, said she's anxious to return to her job as a cashier at Lowe's Home Improvement Center in Waikele shopping center. "It's like a family there."
However, Requilman, a 2001 Campbell High School graduate, said she is willing to volunteer for active duty in Iraq.
"I want to see more action," said Requilman, 22, "and I would go just for the experience."
Spc. Geoffrey Gabayan, 24, had to forgo his junior year at the University of Hawaii as an English major when he was sent to Afghanistan last summer.
"But I really can't complain," said Gabayan, a 1998 Castle High School graduate, "The Guard is the whole reason why I got to go to college under the G.I. bill and the state's tuition assistance program."
Spc. Rodney Sabalo, 28, said his boss at Roy's Electric where he was an electrician before he was mobilized was "relieved that I called. It was really busy even before I left and has picked up since then."
Bravo Company had been servicing helicopters in Kandahar, Afghanistan since leaving Wheeler on Aug. 10. It returned on May 18. The company was replaced by another 60 aviators and mechanics from Bravo Company, who left Wheeler on May 5.
The members of Bravo Company were the first Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers to be deployed overseas since the Vietnam War.
Miyagi noted that Bravo Company was the first Hawaii National Guard unit that went intact to a combat area. In 1968, the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade was mobilized and some of its members were sent to Vietnam as replacements.
Miyagi said the next soldiers to be mobilized include members of the 117th Public Affairs Detachment, 298th Engineer Detachment and 12th Personnel Services Detachment.