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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

Armed forces win new fans after Sept. 11

 •  Hawai'i hosting Sept. 11 survivors, rescue workers
 •  Sept. 11 anniversary events

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Joe Sweat, an up-and-coming optical scientist at Science & Technology International in Honolulu, joined the Marine Corps to be a fighter pilot.

A 53-year-old cardiologist gave up his private practice in Tulsa, Okla., to become a doctor at Tripler Army Medical Center.

On the Wai'anae Coast, the community group Malama Makua quickly settled a lawsuit with the Army over training in Makua Valley. Gate guards at military bases were delivered home-baked cookies. Even tattoo parlors were using a lot more red, white and blue.

Since Sept. 11, a state that already strongly supported a large military presence did so even more.

Whether out of fear over what could happen here or out of empathy for what Hawai'i-based troops could face somewhere else, people rallied around the flag and its protectors in ways big and small.

A year later, the flag waving has diminished, but a new appreciation for the military remains.

Lisa Minato noticed it Aug. 26 when she attended a street dedication ceremony in Kane'ohe at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i in honor of her uncle, Gunnery Sgt. Kenyu Shimabukuro, who was killed in the Vietnam War.

"When I think of Sept. 11, I think of all the people that have died and all the military people fighting in Afghanistan and for our freedom," the 35-year-old Mililani resident said. "When this dedication came up, I was thinking about Sept. 11 and the military even more."

For many residents of Hawai'i — where the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor started an earlier war — the military had become part of the daily backdrop, an economic engine second only to tourism in generating income. After Sept. 11, and in the new "war on terrorism," it couldn't be taken for granted.

Hawai'i Army National Guard soldiers took up duty at airports, F-15 fighters screamed overhead, and warships patrolled Hawai'i's shores.

Immediately after Sept. 11, more than 150 Army and Air Guard troops were called to active duty to provide added security at seven Hawai'i airports. The number swelled to about 200 during the holidays three months later. In April, a civilian security force took over.

"We had people come up and say, 'Thank you very much. We appreciate you being here.' You could see the appreciation for the military a little more," said Lt. David Hatcher, who was in charge of a Guard team at Honolulu International Airport.

Hatcher remembers how, in December, a little boy of about 4 came up to him and asked, "Are you here to make sure the planes don't fall?"

"I said, 'That's exactly why we're here — to make sure that everyone is safe,' and so the little kid said, 'Well, I feel really safe because you guys are here.' I went into my command post after that and the guys were, like, 'Hey, what happened?' That dag-goned kid almost made me cry."

Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, said there hasn't been a major shift in public opinion since 9/11 with respect to the military in Hawai'i.

"I think Hawai'i has always had a greater appreciation for the military than a lot of states have just because it's been such a key part of society and the economy," Cossa said.

Maj. Chuck Anthony, Hawai'i National Guard spokesman, said that "the interest is definitely there" with the Guard since Sept. 11.

"Before 9/11, people would pretty much go about their business and say, 'We knew about the National Guard and appreciate them,' but it was sort of a back-burner type of thing," Anthony said.

Since Sept. 11, Anthony said, he and Maj. Gen. Edward Correa Jr., adjutant general of the Hawai'i National Guard, have been invited "countless times" to speak to community and civic groups.

But the terrorist attacks have produced a mixed bag of results for the military, and the long-term effects of the post-terrorism patriotism remain unclear for Hawai'i.

Military recruiters in Hawai'i and around the nation found that although they fielded a lot of calls after Sept. 11, not a lot of prospects were signing on the dotted line.

The Army's Honolulu Recruiting Company said in May that interest had picked up, although it was mainly among veterans or individuals who had tried to get in before. A June poll of college students nationwide by Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, meanwhile, found that 37 percent of students said they would be inclined to evade the draft if it was reinstated and only 21 percent said they would be willing to serve — but only if stationed in the United States.

The events of Sept. 11 did prompt some to make significant changes in their lives in the name of patriotism.

For Sweat, the 30-year-old with the optical science job in Honolulu, the terrorism was a key factor in his decision to join the Marine Corps.

In the back of his mind, military service — in particular being a pilot — was always something he had thought about, but never acted upon.

"Once (Sept. 11) happened, I really couldn't stop thinking about it," said Sweat, who worked on projects like detecting cervical cancer through fluorescent imaging.

"I kind of looked at it as, well, I'm 30 years old, I don't have a wife and kids, and here are these guys (in Afghanistan) that are probably older than me that were Special Forces ... and they are out there putting their lives on the line for our country."

Sweat struggled with a choice between his career as an optical scientist and attending officer candidate school. On May 31, the day he'd have to report if he joined, he made up his mind. Joe Sweat, USMC, hopes to fly F/A-18 fighter aircraft.

Since July 22, meanwhile, Lt. Col. Thomas Wisenbaugh has been on active duty and working at Tripler Army Medical Center as a cardiologist. Wisenbaugh, who had a private practice in Tulsa, joined the Army at the age of 53.

"I made this decision late in life and I feel like I've discovered a wonderful place to work," Wisenbaugh said. "I have always had an admiration for people in the military who have done their duty for the country, and I'd never done that."

Sept. 11 instilled in him a "sort of low-grade yearning or regret," Wisenbaugh said, so he called a recruiter.

Within weeks of the attacks, the patriotic groundswell affected even the contentious relationship between Malama Makua and the Army over training in Makua Valley. Malama Makua agreed to settle a lawsuit, saying it was the best it could hope for while the nation faced the threat of war.

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