National Guard unit returns from Afghanistan mission

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

WAHIAWA (HawaiiNewsNow) - From anticipation to exultation. Nearly a year fighting the war in Afghanistan, apart from family and away from home, melted in hugs and happiness at the homecoming ceremony for 150 soldiers of the Hawaii Army National Guard.

This was the first time Spec. Jesse Dela Cruz touched his son. His wife, Jasmine, gave birth while he was deployed.

"We actually skyped together while I was giving birth," she said.

"I have their pictures all over where I sleep," Jesse said.

The soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment flew over 1,400 missions over some of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan, transporting troops and supplies in the fight against the Taliban.

"Some missions were shorter than others. But it was those short missions that were really, really intense, where we're in, we're dropping off troops and we're out," Capt. Johnny Wandasan said.

"Every day we prayed to make sure he came home safe. So now that he's back we're happy. Thank God," Wandasan's aunt Arlene Lau said.

The joy was tinged with sadness.

Some of the guardsmen that relieved this unit were killed Saturday in the chopper that was shot down. The Hawaii Guard wore black arm bands in tribute.

"It happened as we were pulling out. It was tough for us. It was hard to leave. We wanted to stay," Sgt. Bill Sapolu said.

The soldiers deployed last August. They've been in Afghanistan since last October, logging more than 6,500 flight hours.

The best news -- no casualties.

"Flying is inherently dangerous. It's better to be lucky than good," state adjutant general Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong said.

Sue Adriano said every day apart from her husband, Staff Sgt. Brandon Adriano, was a test of faith.

"When he would fly during the night or during the day he would leave me a text message. The first thing I would do is head for the phone and then make sure I get that call," she said.

No calling necessary now. Long distance has been disconnected.

Well done and welcome home.

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