200 soldiers prepare to join 'surge' in Afghanistan
• Photo gallery: Helemano ceremony for soldiers deploying to Afghanistan
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
WAHIAWĀ — About 200 Hawai'i soldiers stood in formation yesterday at Helemano Military Reservation in a deployment ceremony as they prepared to become part of the U.S. "surge" in Afghanistan.
The upcoming deployment will be the 307th Integrated Theater Signal Battalion's first combat mission since the Vietnam War.
"Stay alert, stay alive. That's the motto," said Pfc. Jason Henson, 24, who is making his first combat deployment. The satellite and radio technician from Gulfport, Miss., has been in the Army for about a year.
The Army unit, which provides satellite and other communications, moved to Hawai'i several years ago from South Korea, where it was part of Asia and Pacific defenses.
In February, the 307th was notified that its Headquarters and Headquarters Company and Bravo Company would be deploying in June as part of the surge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, officials said.
President Obama in December said he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to the country to battle a renewed insurgency.
The total number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is expected to reach about 100,000 this summer. The Pentagon said that for the first time, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has surpassed the total in Iraq, ABC News reported.
There are 94,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and 92,000 in Iraq.
The 307th was ordered to deploy as an "expeditionary" signal battalion, a transformation that normally takes 18 months, the unit said.
Soldiers with the 307th accomplished the change in about three months and performed training in a collapsed time frame as well.
"They had to get certified for combat operations and deploy in about a 90-day window. This process normally takes six months," said Brig. Gen. Alan R. Lynn, commander of the 311th Signal Command. "The leaders and soldiers standing before you — they did the impossible."
More than 250 people, including family of the deploying soldiers, attended yesterday's ceremony. In addition to the 200 deploying soldiers, about 100 with Charlie Company were on the field in formation. Those soldiers will remain in Hawai'i to support Pacific operations.
Lt. Col. Jacqueline D. Brown, who commands the 307th battalion, said the two deploying companies will be sent to northern and southern Afghanistan.
"We'll have soldiers on large (Forward Operating Bases), we'll have soldiers on small FOBs," Brown said, adding that the groups can be as small as six-person teams.
Sarah Wooley, whose husband, Pfc. Anthony Wooley, 31, is part of the deployment, is heading into the upcoming year with her eyes wide open.
"It's no Disneyland," she said of Afghanistan. "... It's scary. It's war. That's the reality of it."
She and her husband recently went through a marriage retreat focusing on the impacts of a combat deployment. The couple has two children, ages 6 years and 9 months.
Christian Perez said she and her husband, Sgt. Luis Perez, 23, were in Arizona together for just three months before he was deployed to Iraq. He returned in December of 2008.
Now he's heading to Afghanistan.
"It's pretty hard. We just got here (in Hawai'i) a year ago," she said as she pushed their 14-month-old daughter, Andrea, in a stroller.
"Like they say, the families have to stay strong for them to go into combat and come back safely," she said.