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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Army extends active-duty status of 43 Hawai'i reservists

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

As part of the new rules in the "asymmetric" war on terrorism, U.S. Army Pacific has notified 43 Hawai'i reservists that their active-duty status is being extended up to 12 more months.

Col. George "Bev" Garrett said "this is a first in the history of the U.S. Army."

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In addition, about 45 Hawai'i Air National Guard personnel — most already serving overseas — face the same extension as part of a Pentagon move to keep 14,000 Air Force reserve and Guard personnel on active duty.

The Hawai'i Army reservists support the Joint Rear Area Coordinator at Fort Shafter, the unit charged with military homeland defense for Hawai'i.

Not since the Vietnam War has the U.S. military kept some of its part-time troops in uniform for this length of time. The usual service duration is up to a year.

But Col. George "Bev" Garrett, director of the Joint Rear Area Coordinator Hawaii, or JRAC, said that with the ongoing war on terrorism, there isn't really anything to compare the extension to.

"There's not really a standard to go against because this is a first in the history of the U.S. Army," Garrett said yesterday. "This is the first time that we've had mobilized reservists that stayed home to do their job. The last time there was any kind of mobilization, it was to go over to the desert back in the early '90s."

A total of 110 Army reserve and Army National Guard soldiers were mobilized in Hawai'i. Garrett said he received word on Friday that 43 of 78 soldiers operating in support of JRAC would be extended for an additional year.

Several reservists and an Army National Guardsman with the Fort Shafter unit said yesterday they are ready to keep serving.

"I've been training with the National Guard for 18 years, and I had four (years of) active duty before that," said Maj. Bradley Higgins, 46, a chemical officer in the Nuclear Biological Chemical Division. In civilian life, Higgins is a special education teacher at Roosevelt High School.

Sgt. 1st Class Neoma Naaktgeboren came from Maui to be a counterintelligence agent with JRAC.

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"Now it feels like I'm paying back the government, and our country, in doing our job, so I'm proud to come on another 12 months," Higgins said. "We understand that every little bit adds to the big picture in the sense that our little piece that we do here helps in homeland security."

Higgins, who was called up to active duty on Nov. 18, said he misses the kids he worked with at Roosevelt, but not the special education paperwork.

Sgt. 1st Class Neoma Naaktgeboren, 29, came from Maui to be a counterintelligence agent with JRAC after being called up in September.

"My unit called me on the 19th of September and asked if I could come over to O'ahu," said Naaktgeborean, a reservist with the 9th Regional Support Command. She arrived the following Monday.

Naaktgeboren had started a job two months earlier as an office manager for a chiropractor in Kihei, and had to leave her 8-year-old daughter and mother in Maui. That separation now will continue into another year.

"I decided that it was better for my family long-term to stay mobilized and get more experience," she said. In Naaktgeboren's case, the pay she receives now is better than in civilian life.

Another reservist, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Aiello Jr., 33, worked in cargo with Northwest Airlines and remembers coming in to work on Sept. 12.

Maj. Bradley Higgins is a special education teacher at Roosevelt High School.

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"It was something I'll never forget," he said. "Planes weren't coming in, but we were still going to work." There were job cuts following the drop in air travel, but Aiello had almost 12 years of seniority and wasn't worried about losing his job. The Army temporarily took it away from him on Oct. 18.

"But by me getting activated, there was another person that got to move up in the food chain and stay on at the company while I'm doing this," he said.

"I don't know if I'm happy about it (the extension) to be honest," he added. "I just feel fortunate to be put in a position to be able to do something. We all sat and watched what happened after Sept. 11 and felt hopeless."

Aiello said the call-up probably has been hardest on his wife and 6- and 8-year-old sons because working for the Army keeps him on the job longer.

Hawai'i National Guard spokesman Maj. Chuck Anthony yesterday said 39 Air National Guard security forces personnel deployed overseas in the Central Command area of responsibility are expected to be kept on extended active duty along with five to six other security personnel at Hickam Air Force Base.

But no official word has been received yet. Some 231 Hawai'i Air Guard personnel remain activated from a total of about 600.

U.S. Army Pacific said the 43 soldiers that are being extended with JRAC brought specific skills to the unit in the areas of intelligence analysis, security, force protection, communications, planning and training and operational skills.

The Army command said decisions on further extensions would be made based on the mission requirements for operations Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle.

The largest group facing extended activation are 5,700 Air National Guard security forces protecting bases, a spokeswoman for the National Guard Bureau said.

"My quote for this year to kind of live by is, 'The only constant is change,' " Naaktgeboren said. "You've got to be flexible and always be prepared to keep going on and do something different the next day."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.