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Hawaii National Guard soldiers in Afghanistan avoid Pentagon’s ‘stop movement’ order amid coronavirus pandemic

The majority of about 350 Hawaii National Guard soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan just squeaked by a new 60-day overseas “stop movement” order by the Pentagon and are at Fort Bliss, Texas, going through demobilization, officials said today.

“The soldiers from the 1-487th Field Artillery, Hawaii Army National Guard, have made it out of the (U.S. Central Command) area of operations,” the Hawaii Guard said. “… The soldiers will be quarantined at Fort Bliss for 14 days, but they are extremely happy to be on American soil.”

They will have to self-quarantine for another 14 days in Hawaii when they return in several weeks.

COVID-19 measures included the enactment Wednesday of a 60-day “stop movement” order for all overseas Defense Department uniformed and civilian personnel and their sponsored family members.

“This measure is taken to aid in further prevention of the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), to protect U.S. personnel and preserve the operational readiness of our global force,” the Defense Department said.

The order by Defense Secretary Mark Esper affects exercises, deployments, redeployments and other global force management activities.

“Approximately 90,000 serv­ice members slated to deploy or redeploy over the next 60 days will likely be impacted by this stop movement order,” the Pentagon said.

Among exceptions are scheduled deployments and redeployments of U.S. Navy vessels and embarked units, provided they are in transit for 14 days and have met requirements associated with current force health protection guidance.

A deployment ceremony for the 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery soldiers was held in March of 2019 ahead of the Afghanistan duty.

The citizen soldiers had a unique mission known as “counter-rocket, artillery, mortar,” or C-RAM for short, using a weapon system that shoots down incoming enemy rockets with a rapid-fire pulse of 20-mm rounds.

The Hawaii soldiers were operating at seven bases around the country where their defensive mission made them appreciated by others there.

“When my guys are out and about (on base) and people understand what they do, it’s funny, we’re like loved, totally loved. Everybody loves the C-RAM guys when we’re around,” battalion commander Lt. Col. David Hatcher, who was at Bagram Airfield, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in November.

Between deploying to Afghanistan in early July and November, the Hawaii Guard soldiers had experienced more than 100 rocket attacks and over 150 incoming rockets. Most were Chinese-made 107-mm rockets.

The Hawaii soldiers with the “Hiki No” battalion operated the Land-Based Phalanx Weapon System, which looks like a “Star Wars” R2-D2 droid paired with a six-barrel Gatling gun that spits out 75 rounds a second to destroy enemy rockets in flight.

The semitrailer-mounted and gimbaled system links to an engagement operations room and acquisition radars that track the missile flight. The 1-487 was the first battalion as a whole in the Army to have such a C-RAM mission.

Navy ships use the Phalanx close-in weapon system for seaborne missile threats.

“Our units have performed outstandingly, engaging these threats, resulting in much of these rockets either being deflected off course or completely destroyed in midflight,” Hatcher said in November.

The soldiers operate the weapons systems 24/7, and their actions already “have saved many lives of both U.S. and coalition personnel,” said the Nanakuli man, who works full time for the Hawaii Army National Guard.

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