Boots on the Ground: Navy League honors IAs

Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, presents a "boots on the ground" military challenge coin to an individual augmentee (IA) who was one of those honored at Thursday's IA recognition luncheon.

Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, presents a “boots on the ground” military challenge coin to an individual augmentee (IA) who was one of those honored at Thursday’s IA recognition luncheon.

Story and photos by MC2 Nardel Gervacio

Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

HONOLULU – Ninety-one Hawaii-based Sailors and Marines from 26 commands were recognized for their service as individual augmentees (IAs) during the fifth annual “Boots on the Ground” IA recognition luncheon held Feb. 28 at the Ala Moana Hotel.

Hosted by the Honolulu Council of the Navy League and presented by Partners in Patriotism, the luncheon acknowledged the commitment of service members who left their assigned commands to fill individual billet requirements for various combatant commanders around the world.

“This morning we are honoring these Sailors and Marines who volunteered to go IA without a troop, company or battalion. They went on their own. Nobody said goodbye or greeted them back except their family, and so we think this is a great opportunity to let them know how much we appreciated them and their service,” said David C. Livingston, president of Honolulu Council Navy League.

The event started with the parade of colors as well as the Star-Spangled Banner along with an invocation by Capt. Salvador Aguilera, Navy Region Hawaii chaplain.

While lunch was being served, the attendees were treated to music by Henry Kapono, who sang three songs including “I’m Coming Home,” a ballad written with military families in mind.

“I hope we never have to do this kind of event. We hope we never have to send another Soldier, Sailor or Marine overseas again, but as long as we keep doing it we want to keep supporting them because the IAs are the backbone of what’s going on there. They’re the specialists that make the team successful,” said Livingston.

IAs are active duty and Reserve Sailors and Marines who serve in diverse capacities and usually in hostile conditions, making significant impacts in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and the Republic of the Philippines. They provide commanders with mission-tailored, globally-distributed forces.

Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, thanked the Navy League and sponsors for their continued support and personally thanked all the IAs and their families for their service and sacrifice.

“Each of you are a part of a special class of Sailors and Marines who can say that you have served our nation as an individual augmentee. You have volunteered to do this and you have done well,” said Haney. Haney presented each of the IAs with a special “boots on the ground” military challenge coin.

Sailors who serve as IAs not only fill critical joint jobs throughout the world but also serve as ambassadors for the Navy and gain invaluable joint, coalition and interagency experience.

“These individuals, whether they’re Marines or Navy, volunteer for the most part, and they are taken away from their normal duties to support the war on terrorism, to go out by themselves (without their ships, subs or detachments),” said Diane Thompson, individual augmentee coordinator, Military and Family Support Center.

“It’s the extra jobs that they do that should be recognized. I know most Sailors would say we’re just doing our job but this is above and beyond.”

The event also served as an opportunity to thank the families of IAs for standing behind their Sailors or Marines and supporting them when they volunteer for assignments, knowing it will take them away from their families.

“To the family members who stayed behind, I can say that they are just as brave as service members that served because they had to be there and continue with the family. It makes it really tough to run the family when they’re gone,” said Livingston.

“The event was very touching, and it feels good that people care because when you’re out there no one knows what you’re doing. But when you come home, you’re coming home to something good where you have that support and the care that you don’t see when you’re out there by yourself,” said Yeoman 1st Class (SW/EXW) Loribelle C. Valdez of San Diego, Calif., assigned to Patrol Squadron Four (VP4) at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

“The event was successful. I think the Sailors and Marines that are being honored today is just wonderful. With this event, you’re being recognized for something that you did and it’s an honor,” Valdez said.

Since 2001, there have been 110,00 IAs. The Bronze Star has been awarded to 1,416 service members. IAs have been the recipients of one Silver Star and 48 Purple Hearts.

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