Some Hawai'i citizen-soldiers must trade-in patches earned in combat
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
By William Cole
Controversy over Hawai'i National Guard and Reserve uniform patches — this time over combat patches earned in Iraq and Kuwait — again is falling on the shoulders of Hawai'i's citizen soldiers.
A March 1 memo from Brig. Gen. Joseph Chaves, who commanded the 29th Brigade Combat Team when it went to Iraq in early 2005, requires all Hawai'i soldiers who served in combat zones in Iraq and Kuwait to give up a variety of combat patches received overseas.
Instead, they're being required to sew on the patches they left with from Hawai'i — either the insignia of the Guard's 29th Brigade or the Reserve's 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry.
A combat patch, worn on the right sleeve, is a hard-won badge of honor and a distinction that readily identifies a soldier as having served in a combat zone with a certain unit.
All soldiers wear the patch of their current unit on their left sleeves.
Once a combat patch is earned, some soldiers wear it the rest of their Army careers. In Iraq last year, Hawai'i National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Francis Hapenney, who was 58 at the time, wore a Vietnam-era combat patch on his right shoulder.
Gone from the shoulders of Hawai'i troops will be patches including the 3rd Infantry Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, and 1st Corps Support Command.
Sgt. Ivan Avilla, 22, a National Guard soldier, said some soldiers are "pretty discouraged" that they are not allowed to wear their chosen combat patches.
Avilla served at Logistics Support Area Anaconda north of Baghdad and chose the 29th Brigade's blue-cross insignia as his combat patch.
"I stayed pretty much at Anaconda with the brigade, so I wouldn't feel right wearing a patch from a unit I wasn't with," Avilla said. "But for those that did go with other units, they should be able to wear (the combat patch) of the unit they were with."
Even before the nearly year-long deployment to Iraq, the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry — which was part of the larger 29th Brigade Combat Team — won the right to wear its own six-sided unit patch on the left shoulder instead of the 29th Brigade version after Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker got involved.
Chaves' March 1 memo comes after the 29th Brigade's 3,700 soldiers — about 2,200 of them from Hawai'i — were split up in Iraq and Kuwait and most reported operationally to other commands.
The result was that as the Hawai'i soldiers returned home, they wore many different combat insignias.
Spc. Jared Ikeda of Kalihi, who served with the 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry Regiment at Camp Victory near Baghdad International Airport, said he has uniforms with 3rd Infantry Division and XVIII Airborne Corps combat patches.
"To me, that's what it came down to — the history of the two patches, and I already had the 29th Brigade patch on my other shoulder," the 21-year-old said. "To me, it doesn't really matter."
Master Sgt. Craig Ikeda, 58, Jared's father, also served in Iraq. He kept the 29th Brigade combat patch.
"I think there's a lot of people that feel, hey, if you're part of the 29th, and you went to combat with the 29th, you should be wearing the 29th combat patch," Craig Ikeda said. "Other people, they prefer wearing the patch of another unit."
"For myself, I like to be under the 29th," he added. "But I have no qualms about other people and what they feel."
Chaves' memo states that Hawai'i soldiers were allowed to wear the combat patches of the units they were attached to as a "show of support to that command." But with the completion of the mission, those other combat patches are no longer authorized.
"The units and soldiers of the 29th BCT should be proud of their accomplishments and performance during (Operation Iraqi Freedom). ... The (combat patch of the 29th Brigade or 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry) distinguishes you from all the other soldiers from other units and lets everyone know that you are part of an exclusive group," Chaves said in the memo.
Chaves, who next month also will take command of the Hawai'i Army National Guard, cited an Army regulation in his memo that says a deployed unit that is authorized a combat patch "in its own right," as is the case with the 29th Brigade and 100th-442nd, "will wear" that unit's combat patch.
But a different regulation states that soldiers cross-leveled, assigned, attached or augmenting deployed units will wear the same combat patch as the unit to which they are attached.
Regulations also state that soldiers authorized to wear more than one combat patch may choose which patch to wear.
Asked for clarification on the memo, Maj. Chuck Anthony, a Hawai'i National Guard spokesman, said Chaves said that the "memo speaks for itself" and that Chaves didn't have anything to add.
First Sgt. Phillip Umali wrote in a National Guard newsletter last year that the combat patch "holds a special significance for the soldier who wears it. I know that our soldiers will proudly wear the combat patch that they earned on this tour."
Reach William Cole at email@example.com.