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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2003

Guard troops wish all a merry Christmas

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The 62 Hawai'i Army National Guard soldiers now serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan, send home wishes for a merry Christmas, according to Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state adjutant general who visited the troops last week.

Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, state adjutant general, says Hawai'i's National Guard soldiers in Afghanistan "are on their guard and ready to take action." That's a French armored personnel carrier in the background.

Maj. Charles Anthony

"They are doing well. Morale is high and they want to thank the people of Hawai'i for all the notes and prayers and goodies sent over to them," said Lee who took a suitcase full of letters and gifts for the troops. "The small pieces of Hawai'i remind them all of home."

Lee made several stops in the Central Command area in Kandahar with Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard, and visited members of Bravo Company, 193rd Aviation, who are performing helicopter maintenance for the 10th Mountain Division.

Lee said the soldiers are enduring tough conditions, working long hours at an elevation of about 3,500 feet where the temperature has fluctuated from 130 degrees in August when they arrived to just 9 degrees recently.

"They are not complaining, but coming from Hawai'i you are just not used to the extremes in the weather," Lee said. "They are working out and the families will be surprised to find what good shape they are in."

Lee said the area is safe and protected by American and other NATO troops.

"They are on their guard and ready to take action, but they are able to concentrate on their work, which is to repair the helicopters used in the theater," Lee said.

Opportunities to make contact with the local residents are rare, but the soldiers can buy items from merchants in a weekly traveling bazaar, he said.

Lee said he went to Afghanistan to get a firsthand look at the job the troops are doing.

"I wanted to see how they are doing and how they were taken care of by the regular Army folks," Lee said.

The Hawai'i soldiers are flying the Hawai'i and American flags at the base and they have built a reputation as the best place to eat and "talk story."

About 200 members of Charlie Company, 193rd Aviation, are being mobilized and have to report to Schofield Barracks in January for training before what will likely be a year of duty in Iraq.

"Next year, if I get a chance to visit the troops in Iraq, I will, too," he said.

The Guard's 14 CH-47 Chinook helicopters also would make the trip. About 390 Hawai'i-based Army reservists with the 411th Engineer Battalion also are reporting to Schofield in January before likely Iraq duty.

"The Hawai'i troops are doing well there and doing their part in the war on terror," Lee said. "They send Christmas wishes from far-away Kandahar, which is about as far away from Hawai'i as you can get."

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.