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The Honolulu Advertiser February 10, 2005

Hawai'i convoy goes north soon

By William Cole

The first of Hawai'i's National Guard soldiers scheduled for a year of duty in Iraq have landed in Balad north of Baghdad as an "advance party" for thousands more who will soon convoy north from Kuwait.

Most of the Hawai'i soldiers of the 29th Brigade Team live in large tents in Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Their convoy timetable is secret. Capt. Kyle Yonemura . U.S. Army

The advance soldiers, about 10 of them, are at Logistical Supply Area Anaconda, a camp spread over 15 square miles that will serve as the headquarters for the 29th Brigade Combat Team.

The advance party will act as a liaison to forces already in the area and to make sure housing and other needs are in place, officials said.

The timing for several thousand Hawai'i soldiers to convoy north about 350 miles from Kuwait isn't being disclosed for security reasons.

The 3,600 soldiers of the 29th Brigade about 2,200 of them from Hawai'i largely will be stationed between the Baghdad and Balad areas, part of the Sunni Triangle where unrest has been greatest.

"Most will be convoying, but some will fly to Balad, and some of the soldiers who will be in the Baghdad area will fly there as well," said Guard spokesman Maj. Chuck Anthony.

One battalion of soldiers will stay behind to provide security in Kuwait and Qatar.

Once in place, the Hawai'i Guard and Reserve soldiers will conduct a "relief in place" series of ride-alongs with soldiers from the 81st Brigade Combat Team, a National Guard unit out of Washington state that deployed to the region last spring.

At one point in the deployment, the 81st had:
. An infantry battalion in the "Green Zone" of Baghdad.
. An armor battalion at Camp Victory South conducting base security.
. An armor battalion at three locations south of Baghdad providing security for main supply routes.
. An artillery battalion in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia providing base security.
. A support battalion at LSA Anaconda.
. An engineer battalion dispersed to several locations.
. A cavalry unit in Kuwait.
. An air defense artillery at Baghdad International Airport.

A transfer of authority from the 81st will take place around mid-March, Anthony said. A 26-year-old soldier who was killed on Dec. 30 in Baghdad was the brigade's ninth fatality.

The Hawai'i soldiers are marshaling at three camps in the Kuwait desert: Buehring, New York and Kuwait Naval Base.

Alfredo Buccat, 34, a medic with the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery, and registered nurse at The Queen's Medical Center, was at Camp Patriot at Kuwait Naval Base.

"It sounds like they have everything set up for them pretty well," said his wife, Bonnie. The food is better than they received in training, she said.

"So they are actually eating well, and they have a gym where they can work out," she said. "So it's not bad except for the weather and time zone (difference)."

The temperature has been in the 40s and 50s, and Bonnie Buccat said sand dust in the air has caused some respiratory problems.

Her husband has been able to link up with his family via e-mail, phone and even webcam, although only video has been available through webcam.

"At least he can see the kids that way," she said.

At LSA Anaconda near Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, Hawai'i soldiers initially will be living in tents, but they are expected to move to shipping containerilike "conexes" when the 81st leaves, Anthony said.

Balad Air Base has two 11,000-foot runways, and as of May the base had 17,000 troops, according to GlobalSecurity.org. Four cafeteria-style dining facilities are run on the base, which also has two swimming pools and a first-run movie theater.


Copyright 2005, The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.