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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kuwait mission complete


By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Spc. Mulimuli Tilo of the Hawai'i Army National Guard reunites with her mother, Christine, at Kalaeloa after returning from a deployment to Kuwait. She was among 122 citizen soldiers who came home yesterday.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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KALAELOA In a scene right out of the movie "Field of Dreams," 122 members of the Hawai'i Army National Guard seemed to appear out of nowhere at the Guard's Kalaeloa facility and into the arms of loved ones yesterday.

The citizen soldiers returned to the Islands following their deployment to Kuwait. Some were gone for as long as 20 months after volunteering for an extended deployment in the Middle East.

Most of the troops were with the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, though there also was a contingent of soldiers from various units within the National Guard. But yesterday, they were all members of one family as relatives and friends greeted them as they returned home.

An anxious crowd gave the troops a standing ovation as they marched out of the brush about 100 yards from the hangar where the well-wishers had gathered. After a brief ceremony, the soldiers were released to their families.

Ludi Reyes said she was thrilled to see her daughter, 1st Lt. Janice Reyes, who spent 18 months in Kuwait. Although Kuwait is relatively safe, Ludi Reyes said she was always worried about her child.

"It's still the Middle East," the 'Ewa Beach resident said. "You have a young woman in the desert, I was worried because you don't know your enemies."

Janice Reyes, 25, said this was her first deployment since she joined the Guard in June 2008. Reyes said she is still looking for work and that the extended stay in Kuwait will help her financially.

"It was OK," she said about Kuwait. "I liked the free ice cream and the free water."

Reyes said right after yesterday's ceremony that her next stop would be a Zippy's restaurant.

"She missed her wun tun min," her mother said.

Sgt. Joel Burdett and Lt. Dexter Nakamoto said they also extended their deployment by about nine months for financial reasons. Burdett, 44, has been a member of the Guard for 11 years, while Nakamoto signed up 10 years ago.

"The economy's bad. That's why we stayed back," said Burdett, an 'Ewa Beach resident.

When the idea of staying longer in Kuwait came up, Burdett and his wife, Yvonne, talked it over for a while before he agreed to stay. The Burdetts have three young children.

"At first, I didn't want him to because he's been gone long enough," Yvonne Burdett said. "But like he said, the economy is bad and we thought it over."

But she said the decision would have been different had he been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I wouldn't have let him," she said. "That's more taking a risk of him not coming back. But because I knew he was in a safe place in Kuwait, then I felt it was OK for him to stay."

Joel Burdett said he probably would have accepted a deployment to a more dangerous location.

"If they really needed me, I would have stayed," he said. "I support the troops."

Nakamoto, 28, is a student and said the extra money will help. Unlike many others in his group, the Pearl City resident said he also spent time in convoys between Kuwait and Iraq.

"If you're on the road, you're much more susceptible to attacks. Luckily, none of us got hurt," Nakamoto said.

He added that he likely would have stayed, even if that meant being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.

"You gotta make a living," Nakamoto said.