In emotional homecoming, 8 Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers return from Poland

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Emotions ran high in Pearl City on Wednesday as eight soldiers from the Hawaii Army National Guard embraced loved ones for the first time in 11 months.

The returning soldiers — Major Thomas A. Moriyasu, Sergeant First Class Theresa E. Gualdarama, Staff Sergeant Matthew A. Foster, Sergeant Lianne M. Hirano, Sergeant John H. Schoebel, Sergeant Gavin K. Ching, Specialist Casandra Ancheta, and Specialist Kevin T. Brown — were deployed to Poland as part of the 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (117th MPAD).

Soldiers' loved ones gathered at the HIARNG Armory for a redeployment ceremony.

Sergeant First Class Theresa E. Gualdarama's family arrived early at the armory, lei in hand.

"She is our backbone. She's the eldest of us all. She holds us together… we know that she's back and she's safe. It just fills our hearts with joy," Gauldarama's sister, Alexandria Cash, said.

For Sergeant Gavin K. Ching's grandmother and mother, this is their fifth redeployment process.

"Poland sits on the border of Ukraine … and it was very stressful," Carmella Ching, Ching's mother, said.

During their deployment, 117th MPAD soldiers were tasked with documenting the activities of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battle Group in Poland. The team of eight documented the activities of the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions of the Army for the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.

Over 11 months, of deployment, the 117th MPAD produced 2,400 media items that were picked up by major outlets including NBC and Al Jazeera.

Enhanced Forward Presence battle groups were created during NATO Warsaw Summit in 2016, after NATO vowed to increase its presence in its eastern allied countries. At that time, NATO cited the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and other Russian transgressions against Ukraine as serious threats to the region.

As part of eFP, the United States, Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom send battle groups of 1,000 soldiers to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, respectively. Their presence in the region is meant to display force in order to deter threats against NATO-allied states in the Baltic region.

When the eight soldiers stepped into a room filled with friends, family, and leis, cheers erupted. And after the ceremony, many were headed for Zippy's.

"It feels 'awesome-tastic' ... just to be back home and feel that love is everything. I serve for my family and I have the love and support from them which just keeps me going…," Sergeant First Class Theresa E. Gualdarama said.

Gualdarama is an Army photographer. Through her photography, she tries to hone in on the individuality of each soldier.

"I just like to highlight every soldier because everyone is different. Everyone has special traits. That's the best part of my job," she said.

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