Army Guard unit expected to get call-up
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
Today Hawai'i could get news of a second big deployment for overseas duty this time for an Army National Guard unit of citizen soldiers with more than 2,500 members.
The Pentagon is expected to announce the addition of two "enhanced" Army Guard infantry brigades to its troop rotation plan for Iraq.
On Wednesday, the Army said it will send more than 7,000 Schofield Barracks soldiers to Afghanistan in two consecutive deployments of 3,500 soldiers each beginning in February.
For the Guard deployment, the Army is likely to take its most prepared brigades, and the 29th Separate Infantry Brigade one of 15 enhanced brigades around the country ranks high in readiness.
Enhanced brigades are capable of deploying within 90 days of activation. The Iraq deployments would take place in February, March or April.
"There is a lot of stuff swirling around out there, but till we actually get some kind of warning order, nobody can say for sure that something's going to happen," said Hawai'i National Guard spokesman Maj. Chuck Anthony.
The last time the 29th was activated as an entire unit was in 1968 during the Vietnam War, when the brigade trained at Schofield Barracks and 1,100 soldiers were sent to Southeast Asia.
There are 2,100 Hawai'i-based Army Guard soldiers in the 29th, as well as reservists from the 100th Battalion, and Mainland units including an infantry battalion from California, a cavalry troop from Oregon and a defensive artillery battery from Minnesota.
If the 29th brigade is activated as a unit, it would be the biggest mobilization of reserve forces from Hawai'i since 9-11.
More than 600 Hawai'i Air Guard personnel and more than 400 Army Guard troops were mobilized after the terrorist attacks for homeland defense and overseas duty.
About 50 Army Guard soldiers from Company B, 193rd Aviation are set to deploy to Afghanistan for helicopter maintenance. Of the 150 to 200 Hawai'i Guard members previously deployed to Southwest Asia, only about six still are there.
Employers such as Hawaiian Electric Co., which could lose workers to a call-up, are waiting to see what the announcement will be. Spokesman Fred Kobashikawa said 19 of HECO's 1,316 employees are either in the Reserves or Guard.
"For sure we'll be watching for (any news)," Kobashikawa said. "The only thing that we can say is we support the National Guard if they get called to serve."
John Mapes, economic research branch chief at the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, said "2,100 out of the 570,000 wage and salary jobs in Hawai'i overall is not going to be a monster thing (if there is a call-up), but for certain employers, it will be a big deal."
Police and fire departments and government could be hard hit.
As part of the troop rotation plan announced Wednesday, Gen. John M. Keane, acting chief of staff of the Army, said the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq will be replaced in March or April by the 1st Infantry Division from Europe and an enhanced Army National Guard brigade.
The 1st Armored Division will be replaced at about the same time by the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, and another Army Guard brigade, Keane said.
Both enhanced brigades would be deployed six months.
Keane said Reserve components would be used to "balance deployment stress across the force."
Reach William Cole at email@example.com or 525-5459.