Hundreds of Marines, Sailors, their families and friends gathered for the 2nd Annual Individual Augmentee Recognition Luncheon March 17 at the Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu.
Officials with the Honolulu Council Navy League hosted the event to honor and recognize Marines and sailors who deployed as individual augmentees, service members who deploy with units other than their own to fill shortages within than unit.
“These service members don’t receive any type of formal recognition,” said Melvin H.W. Ing, Navy League Hawaii Council president. “They leave as individuals and they come back as individuals. They don’t come home to swarms of family members and banners welcoming heroes home. Most of the time, a friend or spouse just picks them up at the airport. This is our way of recognizing them as they should be, to say thank you for your hard work and serving in those dangerous assignments.”
IAs deploy and train on their own without many of the advantages that come from deploying with a tight-knit unit, as the majority of service members are accustomed too.
In some instances, they are forced to adapt as the “new guy” in operational environments where trust in the man or woman to their left and right could be the difference between life and death.
“I never expected to come back from Iraq and be recognized,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Arthur R. Deleon, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific’s strategic spectrum planning officer, who deployed to Iraq for a year in January 2009 as an IA. “It feels great. This is something special, for sure.”
The event also served as an opportunity to thank the families of IAs for standing behind their Marine or Sailor and supporting them when they volunteer for assignments, knowing it will take them away from their families.
“Spouses play a major role,” Ing said. “If the home front isn’t taken care of, then the Marine or Sailor can’t put his or her all into what they’re doing overseas. Their support is critical to getting the job done.”
After a St. Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef and cabbage, the event ended with a few words from Navy Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, commander Pacific Fleet, about the character of individuals who volunteer for dangerous assignments.
Walsh took a few moments to recount acts of valor from IAs, such as a Sailor who during a fire fight sprinted from a helicopter while receiving heavy enemy fire to medically evacuate a wounded Marine. The sailor was not a member of the crew, nor was he a corpsmen, he was a store keeper hitching a ride.
“(Volunteering for these assignments) reveals the central nature of their character,” Walsh said. “They stand and volunteer. They take a stand against terrorism and today we stand to recognize them for their sacrifice.”