Troop send-off turns into record-breaking event

Rafaela Lewis
Rafaela Lewis
Joseph Lewis III
Joseph Lewis III

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

HALAWA (KHNL) - Nearly 2,000 Hawaii troops gathered at Aloha Stadium for a deployment ceremony on Saturday.

Friends, family and supporters joined them in what turned out to be quite a festive atmosphere.

Despite knowing her son would be leaving again soon, Rafaela Lewis tries to enjoy every moment she can with him while he's here.

"I only have one son and this is his second deployment, he made the first deployment, I think this time around it's going to be much harder because we've gotten to know a lot of the families," she said.

Sgt. Lewis has two boys. They are three and four years old. He says it's hard leaving them behind.

"It's not a good moment, but I know my mission and what I need to do there, get that done and come home and be back with my family," he said.

Along with the deployment ceremony, there was something else that brought everyone a bit closer together.

With more than 7,000 people in attendance, soldiers, their families and friends have broken a Guiness world record Saturday for the world's largest group hug.

The soldiers also got a gift from Governor Linda Lingle -- a state flag that flew over the state capitol.

"I'm not agreeing with what's going on, but as a mother, I have to support my son's decision and stand by him along with all the other soldiers," Rafaela Lewis said.

She has mixed feelings about Saturday's event.

"He's a loving, caring son, very loud, but he'll go out of his way to help you, if you really needed help," she said.

She feels lucky to have a son who has a great attitude, despite heading into an uncertain situation.

"Like life itself, there's bad situations and good situations, it's the outcome to me, family is very important and it just depends upon who you with, who your braddahs and sistahs are," Sgt. Lewis said.

Some of the soldiers will guard U.S. buildings and camps in Kuwait and some will protect convoys going into Iraq.

The brigade heads to Fort Hood, Texas for two months of training before leaving for Kuwait in October.

More on that record-breaking group hug now. 11-year-old Ashley Kakazu took it upon herself to create this massive hugging project.

It was two years ago when her mom gave her a hug one night. After that she felt like sharing that love, but she wanted to do it big. So she checked to see if there was any group hug record.

One did exist in Mexico, involving a little more than 6,500 people a few years ago.

But Saturday, she says breaking that record is something she'll never forget.

"It feels really good to know that you made a difference in the world and made people really happy, like you saw some of the expressions on peoples faces, it just made me feel so good," she said.

To break the record, they had to be in a formation of one single, continuous ring with everyone holding each other's waist. Kids were allowed to participate as long as they could hold another person's waist.