EXCLUSIVE: Teri Okita heads to Iraq

Inside the 'Spirit of Kamehameha'
Inside the 'Spirit of Kamehameha'
Teri Okita and photographer Brenton Awa
Teri Okita and photographer Brenton Awa

JAPAN (HawaiiNewsNow) - This week, members of Schofield's 25th infantry division headquarters will be the very last to leave Iraq.

Our Teri Okita and photographer Brenton Awa are the only Hawaii TV news crew to document their journey home.

It begins, not in the desert, but in the snowy terrain of Alaska.

"We are at Elmendorf Airforce Base near Anchorage - obviously, in the cover of darkness - in 20 degree weather. We're flying in this C-17 cargo plane ... Piloted by the skilled men and women of the Hawaii Air National Guard.

This is one of nine C-17's used by Hawaii's guard - nicknamed "The Spirit of Kamehameha" and fittingly, its mission will be to carry back the last warriors from Schofield's 25th infantry division headquarters.

The troops have been stationed in Iraq for more than a year, and it's the guard's responsibility to bring them home safely.

"We're always cautious about going in and out of that area. And we take it seriously when we hear reports of what's going on there. We always take that to heart," said Aircraft Commander, Major Dana Lee.

Before we get to Iraq, though, the flight crew will make several stops. Here in Alaska, they pick up supplies to take to an American base in the Middle East. We're not allowed to tell you where, exactly, until we get there. But, this mission is so important that the military has assigned six pilots and four loadmasters to this flight.

"Usually, we get about a week's time, and then, we start the planning process, and then, all the way up to execution, we're constantly planning," said Capt. MG Namocot.

Captain MG Namocot just ran the Honolulu Marathon on Sunday and even though he'll be cramped for days on end, he jumped at the chance to be a part of this mission.

Major Dana Lee estimates this to be her 20th trip to Iraq. She also flew into Afghanistan with the navy a week after 9-11. But this trip holds great meaning for her.

"It's special because, you know, it's the last group of guys coming out. They're all Hawaii guys and it's cool to bring our guys home."

We will have all of Teri's exclusive reports on HawaiiNewsNow.com and our Facebook page.

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