I wanted to start a thread to so everyone can share the current status of loved ones involved in Iraqi Freedom. Kris is home safe. He and his fellow soldiers are in the newspaper again. They are not allowed to leave the base yet. He looks terrible ( thin , pale). But Hawaiian food cures much.
Posted on: Friday, June 13, 2003
Hawai'i soldiers glad to be home
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
Sgt. Kristien Yochum didn't want to see sand again, not after spending about three months in Iraq.
From left, Sgt. Kristien Yochum, Staff Sgt. Donald Workman, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher M. Fedor, and Capt. Scott Greenblatt recount their experiences in Iraq. They returned to Hawai'i last week.
Richard Ambo * The Honolulu Advertiser
But once the Wai'anae High School graduate got home, it didn't take long for him to head to Waimea Bay.
Yochum is one of 250 Army soldiers from Hawai'i sent to the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Almost all are home now.
Yesterday, Yochum and six other soldiers shared their war stories at a press conference at Schofield Barracks, recounting night skies streaked with anti-aircraft tracers and Iraqi children who followed them around on patrol.
After three months of rationed food, blistering heat and showers from canteens, Yochum, 23, couldn't wait to get home.
"My mom always comes to the airport with food," said Yochum, who has lived in Wai'anae with his foster family since 1994. "She brought lau lau, haupia, lomi salmon. So good."
Joining Yochum were Staff Sgt. Avant Pearson, Spec. Matthew D. Nelsen, Capt. Scott Greenblatt, Capt. Christopher T. Owen, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher M. Fedor and Staff Sgt. Donald Workman.
All seven returned to Hawai'i last week. While in Iraq, Pearson, Nelsen and Workman earned the prestigious combat infantry badge.
For six of the seven soldiers, this was their first taste of war, marking the culmination of years of training.
"There was certainly an amount of excitement," said Fedor, a combat pilot who was attached to C Troop 2/17 Calvary, 101st Airborne Division. "There was excitement and anticipation to go over and complete a mission I believed was worthwhile."
The eight Hawai'i units deployed to Iraq went over as casualty replacements, said Owen, who served as a battle captain in the tactical operations center as part of the 2/187 Infantry, 101st Airborne Division.
But by the time they arrived in late March, most of the heavy air and ground attacks were over. As they rolled into different towns, they were met by piles of abandoned uniforms and helmets instead of Iraqi soldiers.
"We found foxholes full of uniforms and weapons," Fedor said. "They just put them down and walked home. We weren't expecting that."
What struck the soldiers most was the poverty and oppression in Iraq, a stark contrast to the lavish wealth they said was flaunted by Baath Party officials.
"I never expected it to be as bad as it was," said Workman, who transported troops and retrieved weapons caches with the Alpha Co. 1/187 Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. "All the money was just wasted on self-portraits and statues (of Saddam Hussein). Everything revolved around him."
Owen said his troop came across a warehouse belonging to a Baath Party official filled with more than 200 high-end cars and SUVs.
"On either side (of the warehouse), there were dirt-poor farmers," Owen said. "People with tons of money living next to squalor. And they flaunted it, that was the thing."
For Greenblatt, the experience of entering Baghdad, where his mother was born, was more personal.
"It was really a great opportunity to see a whole other culture," said Greenblatt, whose father was born in Israel. "I heard stories from my mother. I saw the towns they lived in. ... I felt we were there for a great reason, to really help an oppressed group. Just from my perspective, we really did a lot of good for those people."
Owen, who also fought in Operation Desert Storm 12 years ago, was overwhelmed by the warmth with which most Iraqis welcomed U.S. troops.
"Literally, the streets were lined with people cheering and clapping," he said. "They were giving us flowers and water, pulling us into their homes to eat with them. Maybe 5 percent of the country was ticked off and killing our soldiers. But the majority of the country wanted us there. ... They were extremely happy."
He remembered an 8-year-old Iraqi boy named Mufasa who followed him around on patrol.
Most of the children were satisfied with the candy and gum that the soldiers would toss them, but Mufasa just wanted to tag along. One day, the boy was sitting on the curb with his friends. Owen went up to him and said, "Hey, Mufasa."
"He had the biggest grin on his face," Owen said. " 'The Americans know me.' His friends looked at him in awe."
But what made him realize the impact of their efforts was a three-hour conversation he had with a Kurdish woman who lived in Baghdad and helped refugees.
Why stay, he asked her.
She looked at him and smiled.
"Because of this right here," she said, referring to the fall of the government.
"I walked out of there and thought, 'Job satisfaction,' " Owen said.
The oppression they witnessed made the soldiers appreciate the freedom Americans have, something they said they often take for granted.
"I'm definitely more appreciative," Greenblatt said. "I didn't think it was possible for me to be any prouder to be an American. But I am."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or firstname.lastname@example.org