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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 2, 2006

Military families recall year of pain

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The year 2005 will be remembered as one of hardship and heartache for Hawai'i's military.

It was the year 2,200 Hawai'i National Guard and Reserve soldiers spent in Iraq and Kuwait, and their families spent without them.

The year that a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed in a sandstorm in western Iraq on Jan. 26, killing 26 Marines and one sailor from Hawai'i in the deadliest day for American forces in the war.

The year five Pearl Harbor Navy SEALs died in connection with an ill-fated reconnaissance mission and failed rescue June 28 in eastern Afghanistan.

The year 1st Lt. Nainoa K. Hoe, 27, was buried at Hawai'i State Veterans Cemetery, and Sgt. Deyson K. Cariaga, 20; Sgt. Daniel Akio Tsue, 27; and Spc. Kevin S.K. Wessel, 20; were laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

The drumbeat continues for Hawai'i's own: 24-year-old Army Sgt. Myla L. Maravillosa from Wahiawa was killed Christmas Eve in Iraq.

Early on in Afghanistan and even Iraq, Hawai'i did not have a large troop presence. That changed in 2004 and continued through 2005, with families of deployed service members worrying at home and some getting a door knock from a chaplain and officer with heartbreaking news.

At least 51 Marines, soldiers and sailors with Hawai'i ties were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2005.

Most of the service overseas represented better news.

The famed "Go For Broke" 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, nominated for a Meritorious Unit Commendation, recovered weapons and munitions from dozens of sites and detained 66 individuals. In doing so, the soldiers helped increase the safety of the 22,000 service members at nearby Logistics Support Area Anaconda north of Baghdad.

The Hawai'i-based Army Reserve battalion created a grassroots town council in several villages, giving them a larger voice, officials said.

"It's a life-changing experience," Sgt. Ionatana "John" Ala, 37, said of the time spent in Iraq. "It's never a good experience when you lose fellow soldiers. But you get to see other parts of the world. You see something different from what you know, and appreciate what you have here."

The 100th Battalion lost four soldiers in Iraq: two from Saipan, one from American Samoa, and one from Kansas. Ala, a UPS driver and father of two from Mililani, knew three of the soldiers well. One of them was Staff Sgt. Frank Tiai, 45. As a boy, Ala lived in the same village with Tiai in American Samoa.

Ala was wounded when a roadside bomb the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq exploded beneath his Humvee.

"I am very much looking forward to his retirement (from the Reserves)," said his wife, Carylynd. "It was a hard year because we had the kids and he missed so much."

Ala returned to Hawai'i Oct. 26 and continues to go through rehabilitation for injuries suffered when shrapnel knifed into his knee. He marks 20 years of military service in July.

Cariaga, 20, of Kalihi, was the only Hawai'i citizen soldier to be killed in Iraq. The Hawai'i Army National Guard soldier died July 8 when a roadside bomb exploded beneath his Humvee near LSA Anaconda.

For Allen Hoe, dealing with the death of his son, Nainoa, remains a daily ordeal. The 1995 Kamehameha Schools graduate, a platoon leader with the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry out of Washington, was felled by a sniper's bullet in Mosul, Iraq, on Jan. 22.

"It's been one hell of a ride," Allen Hoe said of the past year. "I know he's gone, but I have a hard time accepting it."

So much emotion still pours forth, "I've gotten used to just crying at the drop of a hat," said Hoe, a Vietnam combat veteran. "It doesn't bother me anymore."

Twice the family has traveled to Fort Lewis, Wash., for events involving Nainoa's unit, and soldiers who were close to him have stayed with the Hoe family here.

"To see and hear and talk to all these young warriors who have done incredible things and to listen to them talk about how much satisfaction they had in performing their mission, for me and my family has been very comforting," Allen Hoe said.

The Marine Corps base at Kane'ohe Bay was shaken to its core when 26 Marines and a sailor with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment were killed on Jan. 26 in western Iraq when the CH-53E Super Stallion they were flying in crashed in a sandstorm. Four crew members out of California also were killed.

At the Creekside tavern in Kailua a Marine hangout owner Shawne Garliepp remembers Marines getting up and talking about those who were killed.

"It was like losing family," she said.

The Hawai'i Marines now are on a cycle of repeat war zone deployments. The 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment is just getting back from seven months in Afghanistan.

Six Hawai'i Marines were killed in Afghanistan between May and the end of September, including four from the 2nd Battalion, and two from the unit they replaced, the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment from Hawai'i.

"Desert Storm and some of the other conflicts were so short," Garliepp said. "But this long-term war is very difficult on the wives with their husbands gone. When they come back, I see a lot of change compared to past years."

That includes, understandably, more seriousness.

The year also brought the death of five Pearl Harbor Navy SEALs on June 28 in Afghanistan. Eight SEALs, along with eight members of the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, were killed when a rocket-propelled grenade hit their MH-47 Chinook helicopter. Also killed were three SEALs they were trying to rescue on the ground.

Despite their losses in Iraq, Allen Hoe and Ionatana "John" Ala see merit in the U.S. mission.

"We still have a job to do, and at times we've kind of slipped in terms of letting politics dictate our military strategy," said Allen Hoe, who makes it clear he was never a fan of President Bush. "Our country decided it needed to help Iraq, and I have no qualms about that."

Ala sees progress being made in Iraq. As Iraqi security forces are trained, U.S. troops should be withdrawn, he said.

This year will bring a new round of Hawai'i deployments. About 1,000 Kane'ohe Bay Marines with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines will deploy to Iraq, and 7,000 Schofield Barracks are scheduled to leave for the country next summer.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.