CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
LTC Allan Ostermiller is greeted by Governor Linda Lingle after the special Aloha Charter brought back 89 soldiers of the 100th Battalion back home for Christmas.
89 isle ‘100th Battalion’
members are home
for the holidays
The soldiers flew in yesterday
from Texas on Aloha Airlines
Exactly at 12:01 yesterday morning 89 members of the Army Reserve's famed 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry took off from El Paso, Texas on an Aloha Airlines chartered jet to begin 13 days of holiday leave.
Just before 6 yesterday morning the jet, with the 442nd's "Torch of Freedom" emblem painted on its side, touched down at Honolulu Airport and pulled up at the hangers of Rainbow Circle Aviation off Lagoon Drive.
First down the ramp was Lt. Col. Alan Ostermiller, 100th Battalion commander, who said: "My heart is beating like mad. It's an incredible feeling."
The 100th Battalion is one of the units assigned to Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade which has been in Texas since early October. The 100th was granted holiday leave until Jan. 2 when it returns to El Paso to prepare for another month of training at Fort Polk in Louisiana before flying to Iraq for a year of combat duty.
Ostermiller, who lives on Maui, said, "the soldiers brought pride and left a positive impression with their active-duty Army trainers. The feeling of accomplishment and pride was not only achieved by the 100th Battalion, but also all members of the ‘Lava Brigade' — the 29th Brigade."
On hand to greet the returning reservists were Gov. Linda Lingle; Brig. Gen. John Ma, commander of the Army Reserve's 9th Regional Readiness Command; Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, head of the Hawaii Army and Air National Guard; and David Banmiller, Aloha Airlines president and chief executive officer.
Lingle noted that the charter was arranged by Master Sgt. Beau Tatsumura, who in civilian life has been Aloha's director of aircraft maintenance for the last 15 years.
Tatsumura, a member of the 100th for the past two years, said it took about a month and half to set up the charter flight where each soldier had to pay $978 for the round-trip ticket.
He said his first stop after grabbing his duffel bag would be "to eat at Zippy's."
Kaneohe resident Gladys Ornellas had prepared a bento breakfast of musubis, spam, and spam musubis for her grandson, Spc. Jason Fung, who has been in the reserves for 13 years.
"Oh, this is the best Christmas ever," Ornellas said. "I couldn't sleep last night. This was the first time he has been away since he went in."
Fung's mother, Darlene Medeiros," said her son has used his cell phone to stay in touch.
"He text messaged me," Medeiros said, "to set up the barbecue grill and the chill the cooler.
"We're having a big party tonight and will pass out blue T-shirts with his picture on it."
Sgt. Randy Ramento said he was looking forward "just being with his wife and two kids and the warm weather."
"It was cold in El Paso," Ramento added, "like in the low 40s."
Capt. Mario Calad, who has with 12 years of service with the Hawaii Army National Guard and Pacific Army Reserve, was sidelined two weeks ago when he had to have his appendix removed.
"I've been medically cleared, so I am ready to go," Calad added.
His holiday will be spent with his nephews who live with him in Waikele.
There are 2,200 soldiers in the 29th Brigade who are based in Hawaii and other areas of the Pacific. All but two of them left Fort Bliss to spend the holidays with family, mostly in Hawaii but in some cases on the West Coast where family members met them halfway, Lee said.
The two who stayed behind gave up the holiday break to have first dibs on an trip home six months after they arrive in Iraq.
Lee said that when he spent Thanksgiving with the soldiers "the count was that 327 were staying behind."
But through the efforts of Kaneohe resident Ame Frey, whose husband is a Marine serving combat duty in Iraq, several dozen residents were able to come home for Christmas. Frey donated money and got others to help with donations of money and airline tickets.
Lee said her efforts got other people, like employers of the reservists, to get involved in hustling up mileage for round-trip tickets.