The announcement last week that the Hawaii Army National Guard could be deploying to Afghanistan in 2013 provides an unprecedented two-year lead for families to make plans — and worry long in advance — over the future.
Maj. Paul Agena, executive officer for the 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, said the deployment notice "is kind of a mix (of news) for everyone."
"Getting the notification early, for a lot of people, they like that, because they’ve got plans," Agena said. "Some of my soldiers said they wanted to get married. Now they might be bumping it up a little bit, or pushing it back."
One soldier planned to have a baby, but now is considering waiting, because she wants to go on the deployment, Agena said. Other soldiers are looking at college plans and whether they want to enroll now or later, he said.
With the recent arrival of four Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles, about two dozen Hawaii National Guard soldiers trained last week on a new surveillance system — training that has taken on a real-world importance with news of the possible deployment.
More than 2,000 Hawaii soldiers with the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team could deploy, along with 1,600 others from Guam and Arizona, but so far the citizen soldiers have received a "notification of sourcing."
Until an actual "alert order" is approved by the secretary of defense, there is still a possibility that the 29th Brigade will not be mobilized or deployed, officials said. It would be the third brigade-level deployment to a combat zone since 2004.
"I was expecting to go — just not as soon as we heard, but I knew we were going to go eventually," said Sgt. Lars Lindell, 25, who will work on the Shadow UAVs to keep them flying.
His wife is "not too excited, but she’s in the military as well, so she understands the sacrifices that need to be made," said Lindell, who is originally from Michigan and has a 3-month-old son and nearly 2-year-old daughter.
The special troops battalion’s B Company soldiers, who will operate the UAVs, were familiarizing themselves with the aircraft’s launcher and other parts of the Shadow system at the National Guard hangar at Kalaeloa.
The Army said it had fielded 98 Shadow systems and the Marines have 11, with the "workhorse" UAV exceeding 600,000 combat hours in Iraq and Afghanistan since it was introduced to the Army in 2003.
The 380-pound aircraft has a 14-foot wingspan, can fly more than 15,000 feet above sea level and stay aloft for more than five hours, providing reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, according to the Army. B Company’s certification to operate the aircraft is expected in June, officials said.
"I think it’s a great capability. It will allow us to extend our eyes forward without putting our soldiers in harm’s way," Agena said. "I really think this is the future. These kids that are playing video games now, they are going to be the pilots of the future."
In Afghanistan, the Shadows would be used every day and provide real-time video to ground troops, he said.
Staff Sgt. Jason Trias, 37, of Wahiawa has operated the UAVs as a civilian contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he’s looking forward to doing the same for the Hawaii National Guard in Afghanistan.
"I look forward to deploying and helping out the troops on the ground," he said.