Soldiers give back — even while on leave

KEKAHA — They trooped into the cafeteria in an orderly manner, their heads bearing popular red and white hats.

Sgt. Maj. Keith Castenada watched silently with Joseph Mecham, a U.S. Marine, as the children, abuzz with excitement in seeing men in uniform, settled into the Kekaha School cafeteria Wednesday morning.

“Not only is Sgt. Maj. Castenada going to read to the students, the students are going to write letters to the soldiers so the Sgt. Major can bring them back with him,” said Jeannie Warren, one of the school’s counselors.

Castenada, whose son is a student at Kekaha School, is home from Iraq for a short leave.

“We’re more than half-way there,” he said while watching the students file in. “We’ve been there for about seven months now.”

A graduate of Honoka‘a High School, Castenada said he met his wife, Connie, a Kekaha girl, in the service, and following his tour in Iraq, eventually retired on Kaua‘i.

Joseph Mecham, on the other hand, was totally excited about being part of the morning assembly.

“This is my school,” Mecham said proudly, losing little time settling in with some of the students. “This is my town. I grew up here.”

Castenada, who is part of the 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry, said there is another Kauaian, First Lt. Tumbaga of Makaweli, who is also home on leave with him.

Carol Shikada, the school’s principal, said the Read Across America event also had 16 guest readers, former teachers, educational aides, kupuna and community leaders, reading to students in 12 of the school’s classes following the assembly.

“Dr. Seuss’s birthday was on March 2, but because it’s the 50th anniversary of ‘The Cat in the Hat,’ the program will be celebrated throughout the year,” she said.

As the students adjourned from the cafeteria following Castenada’s reading, Mecham, who is stationed in North Carolina, said, “I come home for a short leave and my mom puts me to work.”

“But it’s good to come back to the old school. This is giving back to the children.”

Residents and motor enthusiasts will have their opportunity to give back to the soldiers on March 18, when Tom Leighton, in conjunction with the Kaua‘i Harley-Davidson, Waimea Big Save, Brennecke’s and other community sponsors host a street poker run to benefit soldiers with both the Air and Army National Guard.

“The soldiers do a lot for us, and we just want to make sure they have whatever we can do to provide for them when they’re overseas,” Leighton said.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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