BEMOWO PISKE, Poland – Soldiers of the Hawaii Army National Guard, 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (MPAD) embarked on a journey from the Hawaiian islands to Poland with a stop in Texas in support of Operation European Assure, Deter and Reinforce on Sept. 6, 2022.
“I am definitely a glass half full type of guy, so of course I was excited,” said Spc. Kevin T. Brown Jr., a mass communication specialist with the MPAD.
These qualified mass communication specialists volunteered to answer the call and serve their country, eager to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The 117th MPAD Soldiers have left their families, friends and jobs behind in Hawaii to support a bigger mission and cause.
“Public Affairs training from DINFOS, ALC, XCTC, and my civilian employment have prepared me for this mission,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Foster, a mass communication specialist and 117th MPAD platoon sergeant. “I travel often for my civilian employer and would be away from home, this is just on a much longer scale.”
The 117th MPAD has deployed as a collective unit or in small teams for missions around the world over the last decade. Missions have taken Soldiers to many locations within the U.S. and internationally to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Germany, and now Poland. The unit's motto, Ha’i Lono, means to spread the news in the Hawaiian language and this deployment allows them to do just that.
“Moving to a new country can feel both exciting and nerve racking at the same time, especially when you don’t know what to expect,” said Brown.
Like any planned trip, many of the deploying Soldiers are leaving the islands for the first time and have taken different measures in personal preparation for this deployment.
“Spent quality time with my family and children,” said Foster. “Being a military kid, I moved around a lot, seen and experienced many cultures so adjusting is a process that takes time.”
As the deployment date came close, some Soldiers became curious about the mission and culture they would soon be in, so they decided to take an educational approach.
“The best thing I did to prepare for our mission was start learning about Poland by taking a Polish orientation course and European driver course prior to leaving,” said Brown. “These courses opened the gate to many questions that got me intrigued about Poland.”
Although most of the Soldiers of the MPAD have never deployed, for one Soldier their approach to this mission brings some familiarity.
“Since this is not my first rodeo, but third, my family and I were pretty prepared for this,” said Sgt. 1st Class Theresa Gualdarama, a mass communication specialist and the MPAD operations non-commissioned officer (NCO).
Many of the currently deployed Soldiers have never left Hawaii or the continental United States in a military capacity until this mission to Europe arose.
“Although this is my second deployment away from my awesometastic wife, it’s never easy to leave the one or ones you love,” said Gualdarama. “It’s just something we deal with while serving our country and I don’t regret my decision to be a part of something bigger than myself and my family.”
As the senior NCO and full-time readiness NCO, Gualdarama’s experience, skills, and knowledge helped prepare the team for deployment. Coordination between Gualdarama and Capt. Thomas Moriyasu, the MPAD commander, allowed the team to better prepare and train as mass communication specialists to refine skills and be ready for anything at any time.
“When conducting deployments of this magnitude there is extensive planning that happens behind the scenes,” said Brown.
The journey consisted of administrative and medical readiness in Hawaii where the team attended a lot of briefings, online certifications, conducted medical screenings and public affairs training.
“There was so much time and effort saved by simply following guidance put out from my leadership,” said Brown.
Once the team completed the online requirements and left Hawaii, they stopped in Fort Bliss, Texas to validate the required online certifications, medical assessments and weapon qualifications before making the final journey into Poland.
“They pushed us to get our certifications completed before we left, that gave us time to complete tasks before departure,” said Brown. “By the time we made it to Poland, I realized how much forward planning was accomplished.”
Soldiers prepare and maintain readiness daily, at every level. Leaving home to head overseas and serve your country is a duty that they volunteered to do.
“Anxious for my children, uncertain as to the environment we were coming into,” said Foster. “Excited to see Europe, sad to leave my kids behind but proud of my sacrifice and our mission.”
With deployments, there’s always a lot of emotions surrounding it. Soldiers share the excitement of being able to experience the military, the sacrifice and the benefits of being part of something bigger than yourself.
“Being a Soldier can be a dangerous occupation, there is no hiding that, but, there are so many parts about being in the Army that are so rewarding,” said Brown. “You learn so much about the people around you, about yourself and your capabilities; these moments are priceless and they also make for great stories.”
Soldiers share the opportunity to compare previous deployments and experiences they’ve been through while serving.
“I was actually excited to deploy this time because it was definitely outside of the usual deployment I’ve done to both Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Gualdarama. “I wanted to see the differences between my deployments and compare each other in positive and negative ways.”
Although many who serve get a chance to deploy, many still don’t deploy. When asked how they feel about being in a new country, some share the new experience, anxieties and expectations.
“I like it a lot, everything besides the cold but I am adjusting pretty well,” said Gualdarama. “Working, going out into the community and experiencing their culture is something that I never thought I’d be able to do and I am so grateful.”
This team has been away from Hawaii for nearly two months, but has made sure to bring the “Aloha spirit” wherever they go both in the job and outside of the uniform.
“I’ve been speaking to the lunch lady and some other Polish soldiers in Polish,” said Brown. “I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with some fellow Soldiers and met some of the locals in the area and that’s always a fun experience.”
The NATO mission has just begun for the 117th MPAD, but these Soldiers look forward to supporting Operation European Assure, Deter and Reinforce, and experience the different cultures within Poland.
“Just the experience of traveling and experiencing another country, culture and language is just amazing to be a part of,” said Gualdarama.
The 117th MPAD looks to embrace the many opportunities they can personally and professionally develop to better each other, themselves and the communities both at home and abroad while doing what they’re trained to do; spread the news.
“I would like to enhance my public affairs skills by going on multiple missions and refining my craft, enhancing my college education, potentially learning another language, connect with people, better myself and do what we do best which is to spread da Aloha spirit,” said Gualdarama.