Called to duty

This month, about 380 Army Reservists and 180 Army National Guardsmen from Hawai‘i will deploy to Iraq, leaving their families and jobs behind.


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Spc. Ryan Agustin in front of the Hummer he drives.

Photo: Katherine Nichols

The evening news, she says, “scares them a lot.” In Iraq, she will refuel Chinook cargo helicopters. She admits that her mobilization was frightening initially, and she was disappointed to interrupt her studies toward a nursing degree. But “you learn how to be strong about it,” Casarino says. “The training kind of builds up your confidence. It gets you prepared.”

That is one advantage families don’t have. “Because we know what needs to be done, we take it better than our loved ones,” says Halemano, who is part Hawaiian. “The stressful part comes from the family that’s wondering all the time. All we can do is reassure them.”

Spc. Dwayne Torres, a refueler in the Army National Guard, says his mother is “all worried” and very much against his deployment. His father, who also served in the Reserves, is more tolerant.

Agustin’s family is sad, “but they understand.” However, he avoids the news, “because all I see is the negative stuff. It makes our family feel so uncomfortable. My parents get so emotional—especially my mother. I tell her, Mom, I’m avoiding that right now; you should avoid that, too.’”

While public opposition to our role in Iraq is vocal, it’s not nearly as intense as the resistance throughout the United States during the Vietnam War, says Boersema, a Vietnam combat veteran. Still, it’s important for these young reservists and their families to believe they are risking their lives to do what’s right for their country and the world. Any views to the contrary get ignored.

“Personally, I don’t like to hear the politics,” says Halemano. “Bottom line, we need to just take care of the mission. We’re going to be there to do it, whether it’s building a school house, a road or an airport.”

Casarino feels confident they should go to Iraq to help residents obtain the same personal freedom Americans often take for granted.

It’s also important to help rebuild the city, says Agustin, who will operate heavy equipment in Iraq. His parents raised him to help anyone who is struggling, and he understands this is his role for the next year.

When asked what deployment means for his relationship with his girlfriend, he turns away and says he isn’t sure what will happen. Then, with conviction, he adds that he knows where his focus should be: “Once the uniform is on, we work.”

Unlike Casarino, whose boyfriend plans to wait for her, Torres told his girlfriend to “enjoy life” while he is gone. But that doesn’t make it any easier. “I’m going to write her every day. I know it’s going to be delayed [for screening purposes], but at least she’ll know that my heart is there. It’s going to be a rough time.”

There are no guidelines for the most difficult of tests for a relationship—a long and uncertain separation. Yet between mobilization and deployment, soldiers endure months of intensive preparation for everything else. The Army administers medical and dental examinations. Makes sure they have power of attorney for their next of kin. Updates personal and financial records. Issues proper equipment: light brown “desert” camouflage battle dress to blend with Iraq’s sandy terrain, gas masks, canteens, machine guns. And demands plenty of training.

“When they get in the theater, they’re in the best possible shape they can be,” says Boersema. “They will feel reassured they’ve got all their equipment, and they know their families are taken care of.”

Torres knows that the experience will change him, make him more independent. His quick introduction to war came when the 21-year-old signed his life insurance papers. “That kind of woke me up. I never thought I would have to do that at this age.”

The size of the active Army has shrunk over the past 10 years, so there’s more reliance on the Reserves and National Guard, according to Boersema. Excuses for company managers, mothers, fathers or students are no longer acceptable to avoid mobilization. “All of us in the Reserves and National Guard knew such a thing could happen,” he says. Sept. 11 changed everything. “You think, Well, sooner or later my turn is going to come.’ You just prepare yourself mentally for that.” Though qualified people are running his businesses for the year, he admits, “you have some concern in the pit of your stomach.”

Torres doesn’t believe that his status as a student or employee for Victoria Ward Security entitles him to stay home. “We all have obligations to fulfill. I want to do my part.”

But don’t mistake patriotism for enthusiasm. “If you’re a soldier, you probably dislike war more than anyone,” says Boersema, a 30-year Army veteran. What makes the job more manageable is the support community members in Hawaii give their troops. “I think if you feel you’re doing something worthwhile, it makes it easier.”

Torres agrees. “In my opinion, everything that we’re fighting for is the right thing. It’s not only for us. It’s not by what nationality you are, it’s not by what race. It’s all of us as human beings.”

Though still living at home with his parents, he is confident he will return a more independent person, “a better man,” with a “good sense of wisdom.”

Maj. Chuck Anthony of the Air National Guard is sure of this. “There’s no question that people will experience professional and personal growth. You can’t go into anything like that without honing leadership skills,” said the public affairs officer, who volunteered to go to Iraq after several days of discussion with his wife. His reasons? “It’s what I do. I want to challenge myself. I’m helping in the way that I’ve been trained to help.”

This sense of duty is reason enough for many. “I feel it’s a good cause,” says Guardsman Torres. “It’s hard, but someone’s got to do it. This is our calling. This is what we’re here for.”


 

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