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Thursday, April 24, 2014

A night of prayer for Afghanistan-bound CNMI soldiers

Dozens of family members of 16 soldiers from the CNMI, along with Gov. Eloy S. Inos, other officials and community members, gathered Friday night for an evening of prayer and support for their loved ones wrapping up their training in Mississippi for their deployment to Afghanistan any time now.

“We are here for you, we are here with you,” Marie Salas-Igitol told the crowd gathered in the parking lot of the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe. Her husband, U.S. Army Spc Ivan Igitol, 48, and daughter Spc Brittney Igitol, 19, are both deploying to Afghanistan.

Friday night’s candlelight vigil was held simultaneously with one in Guam.

Some family members could not hold back their tears and sobs as they prayed and held lit candles for their loved ones.

The 16 soldiers from the CNMI are among the estimated 600 soldiers with the 1-294th Infantry Regiment and F Company, 29th Brigade Support Battalion of the Guam Army National Guard.

They have been training at Camp Shelby in Mississippi since leaving the Marianas in early March, before proceeding to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Your courage, love, and sacrifice are beyond any measure,” Inos said as he joined family members at a candlelight vigil. “You give so much for us and our nation.”

Vicente Camacho, director of the CNMI Military/Veterans Affairs Office, described the event as “a night of prayer and awareness.”

In an interview, Salas-Igitol said the most difficult of all is missing her husband and daughter.

“And being a mother and a father at the same time is tough. But even though I sometimes break down, I need to pick myself up and I can only thank God for being always there for me. I ask for him to keep me together emotionally and mentally,” she told Saipan Tribune.

Igitol is CNMI liaison for the Guam National Guard Family Readiness Group.

Colleen Togawa, wife of U.S. Army 1Lt Joey Togawa, separately said she’s happy that people came out to join the families at the candlelight vigil, which also saw the performance of the Olomwaay Family Choir and the Pacific Winds Band.

“We felt so special. I’m just really happy to see people took time out of their busy schedule to come out and offer prayers and support for family members and servicemen,” she said.

Togawa said her husband was among the so-called advance team that already deployed to Afghanistan last week, to help prepare for the arrival of most members any time soon.

“When he was still in Mississippi, he would call several times a day. My daughter and I really miss him. Every picture of him she sees, she kisses it,” Togawa said, adding that they are still figuring out a way to continue communicating now that her husband is in Afghanistan.

The Togawa couple has a 1-year-old daughter, Gabriella.

Besides the Igitols and Togawa, the rest of the 16 soldiers from the CNMI that are on their way to Afghanistan are Spc Dan Angelo Bicera, Spc Christopher Del Rosario, Spc Josh Ejercito, Spc Delorina Rabauliman, Spc Tiffany Santos, Spc Rita Taitano, Pfc Hainy Borja, Spc Andrew Delos Reyes, Spc Ken Mojica, PFC Nathaniel Mateo, PFC Andrew Reyes, PFC John Umbay and PV2 Elbert Espayos. Mojica and Borja are from Tinian, while the rest are from Saipan.

They are part of the largest deployment of troops for the Guam Army National Guard since its inception in 1981.

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