HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Nine years ago today, the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan. Hawaii's troops have been in the thick of battle and continue to rotate into that country, sometimes doing multiple tours. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice during Operation Enduring Freedom and the war on terrorism.
As the fighting goes on thousands of miles away, the memorials continue back home. The army's 25th Infantry Division at Schofield has lost almost 200 soldiers in the war on terrorism - 26 of them in Afghanistan.
Sergeant Vandy Thon served two tours there. Last year, he was injured in the chest by an roadside bomb. His friend was killed in the explosion. "Throughout both tours, I lost a few good friends, so it takes a toll on you. They're brothers."
No major units from the 25th ID are in Afghanistan now, but about 3,500 soldiers will be heading there in early spring.
Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii has lost about 120 marines and sailors in the Middle East. About a fourth of them were killed while on duty in Afghanistan - many in the notoriously dangerous Helmand province. The latest casualty: 24 year old First Lieutenant Scott Fleming died there less than three weeks ago.
About 1,500 of Hawaii's marines and sailors from Kaneohe are currently deployed in Afghanistan. Some just left Hawaii in mid-September, while others departed in May.
Hawaii's Army and Air National Guard have reported no casualties, but they, too, have had heavy rotation in country. A team of air guardsmen and women just landed back home a month ago, while 150 army guardsmembers are getting ready to deploy to southern Afghanistan in the next few weeks. The navy at Pearl Harbor reports about a dozen confirmed deaths in Afghanistan.
Sergeant Thon says losing a comrade is like losing a familymember. "You feel connected with that person, your friend, for going through thick and thin with them overseas, and once they're gone, your gone. You just feel the emptiness."
Despite being injured, like many servicemembers, Sergeant Thon says he'd go back again if called upon.