Stationed in Kapa‘a, the Hawai‘i National Guard has assisted the county in pandemic response.
When they were first brought in, Mayor Derek Kawakami invited them to one of his daily COVID-19 update videos, introducing residents to some Kaua‘i locals protecting the island.
Master Sgt. Gavin Raquel is one of those soldiers, and he’s taken on the task of finding morale-boosting activities for troops to enjoy while off-duty, while sharing his love of his home.
Many of the guard members are from O‘ahu, so Raquel wants to show them the attractions of Kaua‘i. Raquel, who took on this assignment with Lt. Chris Wong, linked up with Wailua River Kayak, renting boats and taking troops on the water and on short hikes.
“It gets your mind off work,” Raquel said. “You can tell its a stress relief. I really push for the guys to go out. Kayaking is so peaceful. It’s really relaxing not to have your mind on working.”
They’ve also gone bowling as a team and worked out on a beach. Some 23 of the troops hiked to and from Hanakapi‘ai Falls.
“It’s a brutal hike,” Raquel said. “But once we got to the falls, it was well worth it.”
Raquel, who joined the guard after graduating from high school, is a primary signal officer, working in communications, but stepped up to be the task force’s acting command sergeant major, the highest non-commissioned officer position.
He said these little activities while off-duty make being deployed a little less lonely.
Then there’s 1st Sgt. Cory Soares. He is the assigned as the county liaison officer, and has covered in a senior-non-commissioned officer position for the company, providing mentoring and leadership after hours. Soares has taken on an additional workload to mentor and train junior enlisted non-commissioned officers as well.
Soares, who enlisted in the Hawai‘i National Guard 24 years ago, said that the wellbeing of his soldiers is part of the job.
Mentoring during the pandemic presents its own challenges with social distancing and mask-wearing, but “You don’t have to be in a guy’s face to get the message through,” Soares said with a laugh.
For both Raquel and Soares, being on a mission at home has its pros and cons.
“It’s a lot less lonely because I’m home basically, but I can see for the other guys it’s just a normal deployment,” Raquel said. “I know how that feels.”
Each year, he does a two-week training on Maui, and has been deployed internationally. Being deployed on-island means his family can roll into the parking lot and say “hello,” but for safety reasons it’s still with social distance.
Soares echoed these sentiments. But his son, Chyson Soares, is on the same mission. “Everybody’s equal. There are no favorites,” Cory Soares said.
“It’s easier and harder (being stationed at home),” said Soares, who has also been deployed internationally before. “You’re so close but so far.”
COVID-19 has presented a unique challenge, Soares said.
“Everybody’s learning across the world. We’re here writing the new policies and procedures.”
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.