Peter Bianchi's life changed forever soon after the Hawaii Army National
Guardsman came back from active duty in Iraq.
"He was initiated upon dad's return last time," wife Kiara Bianchi said of
the Mountain View couple's 2-year-old son.
Little Cooper Bianchi and several other children watched Wednesday as 52
men and women of the Guard's Black Hawk helicopter unit said their formal
The mostly citizen soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation
Regiment are shipping out today for a yearlong deployment that will take them
first to Texas for six weeks of training and then to war-torn Iraq.
More than 100 family, friends and military veterans showed their support
during a brief ceremony held Wednesday at Hilo's new Keaukaha Military
Some of those interviewed expressed reservations with the mission,
including one woman who was so upset she couldn't discuss her boyfriend's
"It's difficult especially when you have a child who doesn't understand why
daddy's not around," Kiara Bianchi said.
When asked how she feels about her son being sent back to the war, Zoey
Bianchi said "not good."
"It's going to be harder this time because he has a two-year-old son, so
it's a good thing we live next door so we can be supportive," she added.
Bianchi's unit is the first from Hawaii to be sent to Iraq in support of
Operation New Dawn, which one year ago today replaced the former Operation Iraqi
Freedom, according to the Hawaii Department of Defense.
"We are not sure what will happen on Dec. 31 when this operation ends, but
keep your game faces on and be prepared for a one-year mobilization period,"
Brig. Gen. Gary M. Hara, commander of the Hawaii Army National Guard, told the
"We are all proud of what you are doing for us here in Hawaii and what you
are doing in support of our nation," he said, noting fewer than 1 percent of
Americans currently serve in the armed forces.
One of them is Sgt. Jason Matsushige, a Hilo resident being deployed for
the fourth time.
"It just kind of gets easier as you do more, I guess," the full-time
soldier and helicopter crew chief said.
A childless divorcee with no family on the Big Island, Matsushige said his
departure will be easier than for comrades leaving spouses and children behind.
Among family being left behind is Vern Gawith, commander of the Veterans of
Foreign Wars' Post 3830 in Pahoa.
His son-in-law, Benjamin Kelly, a University of Hawaii at Hilo student,
will be leaving a new wife and son for a third deployment to a war zone.
Kelly has undergone extensive training and is experienced, "but it still
doesn't lessen the severity of what could happen," said Gawith, whose daughter
and Kelly's wife is an Air Force member and Afghanistan veteran now undergoing
air traffic control training on Oahu.
Noting five of the Guard unit's members belong to the VFW's Pahoa post,
Gawith said he and others are accepting items for care packages they will send
to the soldiers.
"We adopted their entire unit to support them and their families during
this deployment," he said.
Wives like Kiara Bianchi are now counting the days until that mission ends.
"I just hope things wrap up soon so everyone comes home," she said.