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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, October 3, 2004

Cheers, tears as crowd bids farewell

 •  'Go For Broke' battalion swells with pride as it readies for war

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nearly 15,000 teary-eyed fans at Aloha Stadium rose to their feet yesterday and cheered for Hawai'i's citizen soldiers — men and women who will leave the state this week to complete their training for deployment to Iraq.

Frank Alensonorin Jr. yesterday held up a Hawaiian flag at Aloha Stadium as a deployment ceremony for the 29th Separate Infantry Brigade got under way before the Hawai'i-Tulsa football game. Up to 2,500 soldiers took part in the sendoff along with their families.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The fans were the soldiers' parents, spouses, children, neighbors and friends. Some carried banners or flags. Many yelled themselves hoarse, eyes reddened with tears as they screamed the names of their loved ones.

"I'm here for my brother, Justin," said Joshua Lui as he pointed toward the 2,500 soldiers of the 29th Separate Infantry Brigade, members of the Hawai'i Army National Guard and Reserves, who were lined up in a formation that stretched across the football field.

"He's the littlest one down there," he said. "On the end."

Justin leaves Thursday for Fort Bliss, Texas, Lui said, where he will meet up with other members of the team for up to six months of combat training. From Texas, the troops will deploy to Iraq.

"This is the first time he's really been away from home," Lui said, "except for basic (training)."

Family and friends of John M. Perry III, of the 29th Separate Infantry Brigade, were among those at the Aloha Stadium deployment ceremony.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, Adjutant General for Hawai'i, said Fort Bliss "wouldn't be blissful. It's desert," he said. "Windy, dry; the same environment they'll face in Iraq — except the Texans are friendly."

On the field, Gov. Linda Lingle promised the soldiers she would do everything she could for their families while they were gone.

"You have my personal commitment," the governor said.

Margaret Tatum stood behind her mother's wheelchair in the stands, watching her former co-workers prepare to leave.

Tatum retired recently from the Guard, after her mother, Margaret Tamala, became ill with cancer. She said it was difficult to watch her former colleagues go.

"She'd like to be with right with them," her mother said.

"They'll be OK," Tatum said. "They're well trained."

"I'm here to support my husband," said Grace Peralta, wife of Michael Peralta of the 100th Infantry Battalion, a Hawai'i-based Army Reserve unit deploying with the 29th. "He's leaving tomorrow. We don't have much time."

Ray and Jean Sakai went to the ceremony to support the soldiers who will serve with their son, Brian, who wasn't on the field.

"He left already," Jean Sakai said. Part of the advance team, he'd flown out earlier in the day, she said.

She'd given him Spam musubi to take along.

"I didn't know whether they'd feed them," she said, before covering her face with her hands and turning away for a moment.

"I'm going to miss him," she said when she recovered. "I want him to know we love him, and that he should keep himself in good health and stay strong."

State officials, the University of Hawai'i athletics department and a number of corporate sponsors organized the send-off before last night's UH-Tulsa football game. Many of the soldiers and their families remained to watch the game.

The soldiers are part of the largest movement of Hawai'i-based troops since the Vietnam War.

About 10,000 soldiers from the Army's 25th Infantry Division based at Schofield Barracks are already in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.