The September 11th attack
Hawai'i troops eagerly waiting for deployment
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
Lance Cpl. Carmine Fanizzi's 70-pound rucksack is packed with a poncho, canteen, shovel, boots, camouflage gear and a Kevlar flak vest, ready to go at a moment's notice.
The 20-year-old Marine just isn't sure when, where or if he'll need it for duty anytime soon.
A month after the U.S.-led attacks in Afghanistan began, Fanizzi is as uncertain now as he was then whether he'll be deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom.
"To be honest with you, on my level, I don't know," he said. "I don't know what our government's plans are, and I don't know what our role would be in it."
He isn't alone.
"Here in Hawai'i, we don't get a lot of word about it (possible deployment)," said Jessica O'Brien, 23, an Army specialist at Schofield Barracks. "The only things I've ever heard is what's on TV."
Heavy base security and the threat of anthrax have only added to the tension. The shock of the terrorist attacks still lingers; many troops in Hawai'i may be eager to do something, but the waiting and the uncertainty have some on edge.
Initially, some 25th Infantry Division (Light) soldiers were worried about being deployed to the East Coast for homeland defense after the Sept. 11 attacks, O'Brien said.
Now, she added, many are monitoring such Island sites as water facilities to guard against potential contamination.
Still, the possibility of involvement in Afghanistan or elsewhere looms.
Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, said Hawai'i-based forces are being kept at home to cover potential flare-ups in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Taiwan, or North or South Korea.
Cossa, a retired Air Force officer, said having a large number of conventional ground troops required during the Gulf War probably will not be as pressing in Afghanistan. About 7,500 Marines from Kane'ohe were deployed to the Gulf in 1991.
By contrast, only about 100 to 200 U.S. soldiers are believed to be on the ground in Afghanistan now.
"What I continue to see essentially is a military operation focusing on air, naval air, missiles, and Special Forces these aren't the kinds of things we focus on in Hawai'i," said Cossa, who served on the command staffs of two Pacific commanders in the 1980s and 1990s.
However, some Washington lawmakers have urged President Bush to send in more ground forces to bolster what they feel is a flagging air campaign. Along these lines, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said he wants a threefold to fourfold increase in commando teams in Afghanistan.
Mackubin Owens, a professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., said one or two infantry divisions, a total of about 30,000 troops, could solidify the efforts of Special Forces because "there's just not enough of them to do everything."
Ground troops also would reinforce the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and rebuild the trust in Afghanistan that the United States lost after abandoning the country at the end of the Soviet occupation in 1989, he said.
Such reinforcements might come from the Schofield-based 25th Infantry, Owens said, with the 82nd Airborne serving as a strategic reserve and the 2nd Infantry Division occupied with Korea.
"Since other divisions are heavy, or light with a specific role to play, that kind of leaves the 10th Mountain and 25th as the most likely candidates," Owens said.
At least 1,000 10th Division troops already have been sent to Uzkbekistan to conduct search-and-rescue operations and perform humanitarian relief missions. The troops are billeted in tents with cots.
Citing security, military officials here have steadfastly refused to talk about deployments, like that of the guided missile destroyer USS Russell, which left Pearl Harbor Oct. 24 for a six-month tour of duty.
The USS Essex Amphibious Readiness Group and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit from Okinawa were in the Arabian Sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom two weeks ago before heading to East Timor.
"We deploy Marines to Okinawa. It's conceivable those Marines who are deployed, could be attached to the 31st MEU," said 1st Lt. Kent Robbins, Marine base media officer at Kane'ohe Bay.
Fanizzi said regular Marine training has remained on track, and his unit still is scheduled to deploy to Okinawa in February as part of a regular rotation. All three battalions in the 3rd Marines at Kane'ohe rotate to Okinawa on seven-month schedules.
"As Marines, we train to be America's 911 force," Robbins said. That means the same level of high-intensity training as before Sept. 11. But that training has come with a new purpose.
"There is just a heightened state of awareness now to be ready, no doubt," Robbins said.
Beth Kern, whose husband works with the Navy's Pacific Fleet command, said "everybody is worried about being deployed because a lot of ships are here, and a lot of subs are here."
But she also said the mood is "less dramatic now."
"Everyone is not rushing around. People are a little bit calmer, but they are still worried," she said.
Bases still have heightened security, and checkpoints are everywhere.
Kern has tried not to let terrorist threats and deployment worries get to her.
"With two children that are young, I try not to let it make a difference in life," she said. "If you do, you are wasting time."
Reach William Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-5459.