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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 25, 2004

Schofield soldiers bid farewell before boarding for Mideast

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

On the way to danger, some snoozed while others chatted, played video games or ate pizza at the passenger terminal at Hickam Air Force Base yesterday.

Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division (Light) cross the tarmac at Hickam Air Force Base to board the jet that will take about 250 of them from Schofield Barracks to a year's tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Keona King gives a goodbye kiss to her husband, Staff Sgt. Philip King, who is heading to Afghanistan. She has orders to follow next month.

Photos by Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

But beneath the distractions was an ever-present awareness that 250 soldiers from Schofield Barracks' 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th

Infantry Division (Light) would soon be bound for a Middle East war zone and Operation Enduring FreedomiAfghanistan.

"I would say there are a lot of emotions here today," said Sgt. Jessica King, 23, of Pittsburgh, Pa., who was leaving her husband, 4-year-old son and 6-month-old baby boy for a year. "There's a lot I'm going to miss."

King, who works in supply, double-checked her lists and focused on the task at hand: making sure infantry soldiers will get everything they need when they arrive in Afghanistan.

Not far away, Capt. K.C. Evans, 26, of Hilton Head, S.C., watched "Apocalypse Now" on a large overhead monitor with a group of other men.

"I would describe it as excitement mixed with trepidation," said Evans, who married three weeks ago. He held up his left hand to show the wedding band. Like the other soldiers, he was dressed in full gear, with his weapon close at hand. And, like many of them, he had said his family goodbyes before arriving at the terminal.

He had seen the movie before, he said — a Francis Ford Coppola classic, to his way of thinking. The irony of watching such a film before going off to a combat zone was not lost on the captain, who described it as an exercise in how not to conduct a war.

At the opposite end of their row of seats, Staff Sgt. Hugh Jones of Wai'anae waited calmly. His demeanor was resolute.

"I just want to get over there, get the job done and come back," said Jones, who's married and has "two kids and another on the way."

Sitting directly in front of him, Spc. Isaac Nahakuelua, 23, of Hilo was champing at the bit. "I'm excited," Nahakuelua said as he strummed "Hawaiian Superman" on his fluke — a rugged plastic 'ukulele resembling a balalaika that he will be taking with him.

"I can't wait to go, to tell you the truth. I grew up in Hilo, and when I came to O'ahu, everything here looked big to me.

"I'm just excited about the thought of seeing new land and new people."

That attitude fits with operation plans, said Maj. Lance Davis, the senior officer traveling with the group. Although the mission will include combat, the ultimate goal is peace, he said.

"We will be establishing a rapport with the local villages, building some stability in the region and assisting those people in trying to set up their government," he said.

Davis' group originally was scheduled to be part of a second unit arriving in Afghanistan in June or July, and remaining about half a year. But plans changed, and Davis and his fighters will be reaching the Middle East three months sooner than expected and staying a full year.

"As tough as this is on the soldiers, it's even tougher on the families," said Davis, who is saying goodbye to his wife and three young sons. "But we're going over there to support Operation Enduring Freedom — and we're ready."

Some 5,000 soldiers from the 25th will continue to deploy to Afghanistan throughout March and April.

Reach Will Hoover at 525-8038 or whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.