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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Nov. 28) - Fifty-six soldiers from American Samoa’s U.S. Army Reserve's 793 Engineer Detachment Unit now in Iraq are scheduled to end their one-year tour of duty next month but military officials did not say if the group will return home to American Samoa before Christmas.

The unit, which includes Governor Togiola's daughter, was mobilized to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii on October 1, 2004 and arrived in Honolulu thereafter to undergo training and preparedness. They were deployed to the Middle East in early December 2004 following a farewell service in Honolulu.

Lieutenant Colonel Howard Sugai, spokesman for the 9th Regional Support Command of the Pacific Army Reserve said, they expected the unit back in Hawai'i next month but could not say if the group will return by Christmas.

"We do not have a definite time on their return home or movement," said Sugai in a telephone interview from Honolulu on Friday. "But barring any unforeseen circumstances or changes, the unit is expected back on Oahu Island (Hawaii) sometime in December."

Upon their arrival in Hawai'i, the unit will go through the demobilization process, including medical screening.

"If they have health issues, prior to their being demobilized, that will effect the time schedule of their processing for release to private life," said Sugai. "The ultimate goal is to return our soldiers home to American Samoa as soon as possible and in much better shape."

There is also no time frame when the unit returns to the territory, he said.

Prior to being officially released from active duty, all soldiers will undergo the "out processing," which includes taking a complete physical examination, complete paperwork including financial pay. Sugai could not predict the length of the process.

The local unit joined another larger one already in Iraq that deals with installation of, among other things, lighting, plumbing and dry wall for buildings and facilities already constructed by the military troops in Iraq.

The departure of the 793 Engineer unit, will leave behind about 200 soldiers from the Bravo and Charlie companies of the local Army Reserve, who are set to complete their one-year tour of duty early next year.

They are part of the more than 700 soldiers of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry, which includes soldiers from American Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, Saipan and the U.S. Mainland. The battalion is stationed just outside Logistical Support Area Anaconda, north of the Iraq capital of Baghdad, which is considered a dangerous zone.

Since their deployment, the battalion has lost four soldiers, including Staff Sergeant Frank Tiai, 45, of Pago Pago village who was killed July 17 while on patrol. Two of the dead are from Saipan and the 4th from Wichita, Kansas. According to the Honolulu Advertiser more than 45 Purple Hearts have been awarded for wounds, most from roadside bombs.

The first group of local reservists, part of the 411th Engineering Battalion, deployed to Iraq early last year, returned to the Territory in April this year.

November 29, 2005

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