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National Guard soldiers home from Iraq tour

Photography by Baron Sekiya/Hawaii247.com


Family and friends of the National Guard troops hear the helicopters and finally the troops arrive at Kona International Airport. View the video from about 10 minutes in as the troops are welcomed home in the last 4 minutes.


The troops stand in formation and after some short speeches the company is dismissed and is reunited with family members.

Karin Stanton/Hawai247 Contributing Editor

More than 100 Big Island soldiers got a hero’s welcome Thursday, returning from a year’s deployment overseas.

The Army National Guard troops – 78 from Hilo and 25 from Kona – are Detachment 1 of the Delta Forward Support Company attached to the 29th Infantry Lava Brigade. It was the unit’s second deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The unit provided base security in 2005-06 in Baghdad, then returned to Kuwait and Iraq in 2008 to provide convoy security operations across Iraq.

In nine months, the unit completed more than 400 missions and have traveled over 500,000 miles across Iraq.

Official welcome

After a stop in Texas for their official debriefing, the unit headed back home to Hawaii.

They, their families, friends and communities celebrated the homecoming Thursday.

After dropping off 78 soldiers in Hilo, the plan was to bus the rest over to Kona, but Col. Alika Watts said special arrangements were made to fly them in by helicopter.

“Besides the day they leave, this is the emotional day for everyone. We wanted to get them home to their families as quickly as we could,” he said. “We’re just happy to have them home with all their fingers and toes.”

Watts, a 28-year National Guard veteran, is stationed on Oahu, but flew to the Big Island to welcome the troops home.

“This is the best part of my job,” he said. “I really love these troops and their families.”

Third Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra said the homecoming holds special significance for him. Ibarra served 16 years in the National Guard, only resigning his lieutenant colonel commission when he was appointed to the bench.

“I enjoyed the military. In fact, I was commander of this very unit before I resigned my commission,” he said. “As members of the community, we’re very proud of our men. And as a judge, I’m proud of these men as law-abiding citizens who more than fulfilled their responsibilities. When the call came, they responded.”

Dick Scritchfield, with the American Legion Kona Post 20, said he came down to support the troops.

“It’s an important day. We’re glad to see them back,” said Scritchfield, who served in the Navy in Korea. “There’s a lot more of a welcome back for them than in other times. I’m sure they’re very excited to see their families here.”

Anxious families

Among those waiting at Kona International Airport were members of the McDonald family.

Blaze Rexroat, 20, said he and his cousins – Leihulu,15, and Leiuho, 9 – stayed up late making signs for Uncle Darrell.

Although they said they did hear from him via e-mail and the occasional phone call, they can’t wait to see him.

“He says he’s been having fun. I know he loves to travel so he’s been able to see lots of places,” Blaze said. “Hopefully, tonight he can tell us all about it.”

Leiuho said she missed jogging with her uncle and used to be able to keep up with him, but she’s not so sure about that now. She thinks maybe she’ll need a golf cart.

“We’re just glad that he coming back,” Leihulu said.

“There’s two more kids at home making more signs so he’ll see them in the driveway when we get home,” Blaze said. “And our great-grandma has been cleaning everything in the whole house. She can’t wait.”

Ruby McDonald is used to the military life as her brothers and husband served, but it’s different when it’s her son.

“It’s been a year and two weeks. But today makes everything seem short. They’re coming home,” she said. “Everyday, I’ve missed him. It’s the little things, like ‘ah shucks, he’s not here and the lawn needs mowing, this jar needs opening.'”

The Kaloko family also plans to open all the packages Darrell sent ahead, but warned the family not to open until he can distribute the presents himself.

Esaias Furtado is busy handing out lei and programs while waiting for her son Nalei Furtado Piko.

“It’s about time. He keeps saying he’ll sign up to deploy one more time,” she said. “I tell him it’s enough already. Maybe his wife can ground him.”

Nearly two dozen family members turned out at the airport.

“We missed the little things, all the holidays and family get-togethers,” she said. “He’s missed so many of my grandsons’ birthdays.”

Official comments

Pastor James Texeira of Solid Rock Ministries offered a prayer, before remarks by Ibarra and Watts.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be here. Be kind to each other,” Ibarra said. “Good luck to all of you and welcome home.”

Watts said he would not keep the men from their families much longer.

“I want to thank the families,” he said. “It’s a two-way street and I know you work very, very hard.”

Finally, the soldiers and their families were reminded that if they have any trouble readjusting to civilian life, there is help available.

“I’m very proud. They look good, they feel good,” Watts said. “It’s a very, very happy moment.”

Dismissed

Hugs and tears and tons of leis. 

Jessie Lansdale was greeted by his girlfriend Kapina Palacat and their two daughters.

Lansdale’s youngest daughter Nohea was born July 20, 2008 – about three weeks before he shipped out. He hasn’t seen her since.

“It’s good. I’m so happy,” Lansdale said.

The McDonald family quickly surrounded Darrell.

“It’s great to see him. Nobody cried,” Blaze said. “But my great-grandma will when we get home, I just know it.”

Perhaps one of the happiest soldiers was Paul Angeleo. He had huge grins and big hugs for his fellow National Guardsmen, his family, their families, his friends, their friends and everyone else walking past.

“There’s my mom, my sisters, a bunch of cousins and about half of Kona,” he said. “It’s great. I’m so glad to be home and I can’t wait to see everyone and see all the changes.”

Asked whether he feels he now has two dozen brothers, Angeleo points to another man in uniform.

“That guy right there?” he said. “That really is my twin brother, Peter. But yeah, we’re all brothers.”

Angels of Delta Company

Deena Wong, coordinator of Angels of Delta Company, said the job is not done yet.

“We’re here for them and the families,” she said. “We won’t leave them.”

Contact Angels of Delta Company at angelsofdelta@yahoo.com or  Angels of Delta Co, FRG, C/o DET-1, Co D, FSC, 29th BSB, PO Box 9007, Kealakekua, HI 96750.

One Response to “National Guard soldiers home from Iraq tour”

  1. Deedee Furtado says:

    To Deena Wong, The family of Sgt. Nalei Furtado-Piko sends our deepest appreciation for the fantastic job you and the Angels of Delta Co., has done take care and keep up the good work Our big Mahalo goes out to you and your team. Yours truly Deedee Furtado mother of Sgt. Nalei Furtado-Piko.

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