Tech. Sgt. Randy Sijaleo embraced his pregnant wife Tuesday afternoon, happy that he would be able to see his first born after serving six months in the Middle East with 16 other Mauians.
“I told her hold on for me,” Sijaleo said with a smile at Kahului Airport.
Sijaleo and 33 other Hawaii Air National Guardsmen from Maui and Oahu helped provide base communications in the war-torn area. His detail with the 292nd Combat Communication Squadron helped with satellite telecommunications, computer networking, telephone and mobile radio services, as well as some other base support functions, according to a National Guard news release.
Dozens of friends and family members waited for their homecoming heroes at the airport, holding signs and shedding tears as they hugged and kissed the soldiers that trickled in throughout the day.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time and for this moment. I was just nervous about her that’s all,” Sijaleo said looking to his wife. “I have a very big gift on the way. I was just nervous and hoping to make it in time.”
Sijaleo’s wife, Badam, is expected to give birth to their first child this week. She was a few months pregnant when he left the island with the squadron based in Kahului. His deployment was the first since they were married in 2012.
“The beginning was hardest to get used to and then I knew I was going to have baby so I wanted him to stay safe,” Badam Sijaleo said. “Every day I talk to him, text him and take picture. He want to know everything.”
Randy Sijaleo remembered being called into service and that he was sad, but understood his duty to serve.
“It was kind of tough, but I tried to be there as much as I could,” he said of their first time away from each other. “I got closer to family more. This is my first child so this is the biggest thing for me. Trying to balance work with family back home was the hardest thing for me because physically I couldn’t be there for her.”
Many other families were happy to see their loved ones back home, including Lei Agpoon of Kahului. Agpoon’s husband, Tech. Sgt. Roque Agpoon, has served in the military since graduating from Maui High School in 1996, but this was his longest deployment.
“It’s hard being a single parent. I don’t know how single parents do it,” Lei Agpoon said of caring for her two children while her husband was away.
Lei Agpoon said many of the wives and families of the soldiers would regularly gather under the National Guard’s Key Ohana program. The program helped families connect with one another and regularly met on the weekends to share food and stories, as well as keep each other company.
She said a sergeant even helped fix her air-conditioning unit when it broke and her roof when it started leaking.
“You need a support team while they’re gone,” she said. “I have a lot of friends to help keep me company, and they take my kids to soccer, hula and wherever.”
Chelsea Acidera, wife of Staff Sgt. John Acidera, said she would set a time for her and their son to speak with him while he was away. She said they would wake up around 6 a.m. to talk to him – about the time he was getting done with work.
“We were always in the loop with him,” she said.
All of the soldiers were happy to be home, including Senior Airman Marcus Morton of Makawao. The 25-year-old airman experienced his first deployment and was eager to take his four kids and wife, Roxy, to the beach.
“It was exciting and sad at the same time,” Morton said. “Exciting that we actually got to go and do our jobs in the real world, but sad to leave all these guys at home. But it went by pretty fast, and it was nice to sleep in an actual bed.”
Raylon Bio, 24, of Kihei also made his first deployment and said it was a “real learning experience” for the 2009 Maui High grad. Bio said the weather went from “hailing to snowing to 115 degrees” and that it was eye-opening to work with other nations and allies in the region.
“It’s working at refugee camps, and you see how much terror they go through and they’re like ‘thank you, thank you, thank you,’ ” he said. “Seeing all that change happen while I was there was the best thing.”
Lt. Col. David Kashiwamura, commander of the squadron, said the trip was a routine and rotational deployment to relieve soldiers in the area. However, he said it was still special to have worked together and deployed to the region as a unit that includes 17 soldiers on Oahu.
“I think it’s a real significant thing for us because out there we’re making a difference,” Kashiwamura said. “In a lot of ways, if you look at it in the big picture, we’re part of history, so it’s kind of a significant thing for us here. We can tell our kids and grandkids that we were involved in some of the operations out there.”
Due to operational security reasons and host nation sensitivities, soldiers could not speak specifically on their missions and locations, National Guard officials said.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.