Summer Malina of the Hawai‘i Air National Guard got an uplifting sendoff yesterday as she prepared for her first deployment to the Middle East in May.
The Kauai All Girls Rodeo Association dedicated yesterday’s rodeo at the CJM Country Stables in Po‘ipu to Malina, a West Kaua‘i member of the 154th Air Control Squadron of the Air Guard.
To the song “God Bless the U.S.A.,” Malina and Rosanne Shimogawa — who also had the event dedicated in her honor because her husband, David, is a serviceman stationed in the Middle East — led a procession of 16 women riders in a corral used for the day’s competition.
Held by horse riders, the American flag, the Hawai‘i state flag and the flag of the horse association flapped stiffly against strong winds.
Malina, a technical sergeant, said she will miss her significant other Ryan Fu; her children, Shayna, 14, and Morgyn, 8; her horses, Cody and GR; and Kaua‘i. But, she said, she is ready to serve her country and bring distinction to her unit and Hawai‘i.
“(Unit members) actually want to go,” Malina said. “We dedicate so much time in the Hawai‘i National Guard for training and to prepare for our mission. And when a real mission comes up, everybody is gung-ho about going.”
Because she wants to be focused for her deployment, Malina said she and other military personnel don’t pay too much attention to headline stories about the deaths of more American troops and escalating violence.
“We are knowledgeable about what is going on, but we need to be mission ready, and not go in there with a negative
attitude,” she said. “That would defeat the mission purposes.”
The older members of her unit are equally committed to doing the job once there — a conviction that inspires her to be in top form as well, she said.
“For some of the older ones, they are thinking (the mission) may be the last round (in which) to make a difference,” Malina said. “They still have the dedication. It is great.”
She said the strong “Hawai‘i ties” she shares with other unit members buoy her as she readies for her deployment.
“Hawai‘i is really unique because (service personnel from Hawai‘i) are so close-knit,” she said.
“Either our families know each other or we grew up together, or we are related. We call it the aloha spirit, which distinguishes us from all other National Guard units.”
Malina said mission requirements prevent her from talking much about her deployment with anyone outside her unit, including her family.
As with other military families, her family realizes she has to “keep her mind clear” before deployment and pretty much leaves her alone while still showing support, Malina said.
“I love my family. I am definitely going to miss them,” she said. “But I know what my job entails me to do.”
She said her family’s support has helped her and five other family members in the Army, Air Force and Hawai‘i National Guard who have gone on deployments overseas.
Once she reaches her destination, Malina said her responsibility will be to “maintain the air space” in a designated area.
Following graduation from Kaua‘i High School, Malina joined the Hawai‘i Air National Guard in 1996, due to patriotism and for the chance to improve herself.
Malina competed competitively in rodeos in high school, but curtailed her involvement in that sport for the next 11 years to focus on her military career.
Yesterday’s rodeo brought her full circle to her rodeo roots.
Malina, wearing a pink shirt, cowboy hat and black jeans, was scheduled to compete in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying and dally team roping, her specialty.
It involves a header roping the cattle by the head and towing the animal while a heeler lassos the hind legs of the animal, all in the shortest time possible. Heelers who were to assist Malina yesterday were Joyce Miranda and Corinna Schumaucher, both of Koloa, and Shantel Wong of Kapa‘a.
Malina, an experienced header, got her inspiration to ride horses from her father, Eddie “Cowboy” Malina, a paniolo and a cousin to Eddie Taniguchi Jr., a paniolo legend from Kaua‘i.
Kaua‘i rodeo rider April Soares said Malina is a real cowgirl and rodeo rider.
“I have known her since she was a little girl, and she is not one of those pretty wanna-be cowgirls,” Soares of Kapa‘a said. “She knows her stuff.”
Other rodeo sponsors included CJM Country Stables and the YMCA.
• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or email@example.com.