Peninsula unit of California National Guard ready for deployment to Iraq 

Although standing just feet from her only daughter, Candice Cain could not help herself. As gently as a mother possibly can, Cain slowly approached medic Spc. Lauren Yee and embraced her.

“Hello, mom,” said Yee, 24, who will ship out on her first military tour in a few months.

Yee, a San Bruno resident, is one of about 60 California Army National Guard soldiers from the 297th Area Support Medical Company, which will depart for Iraq soon. Their mission: Operation New Dawn.

In honor of the 297th’s first overseas deployment since its creation in 1954, a goodbye ceremony was held at the San Mateo County Event Center.

The unit, comprised of Northern California soldiers, will first report to Fort Lewis, Wash., before heading to the southern region of Iraq. Once overseas, it will provide basic medical support to military personnel, California National Guard spokesman Capt. Jonathan Masaki Shiroma said.

Having completed three overseas tours himself, Shiroma understands the sacrifices the soldiers are

“That’s probably the hardest part of any deployment,” Shiroma, 47, said. “Putting your civilian life on hold, I take my hat off to any soldier who has had to do that. You realize that’s what you signed up to do.”

The unit’s leader, 24-year military man Capt. Donald Nodora, is married with two children.

“I’m leaving behind a 5-year-old and a 5-month-old,” said Nodora, 42, who is experiencing his first overseas deployment. “Leaving them behind is very bitter.”

But Nodora knows what his job is, and that makes him swell with pride.

“I’m actually very proud to be the commander of this team,” Nodora said. “I’m thrilled and honored to be their leader.”

His wife, Kimberly, is the volunteer coordinator for the 297th’s Family Readiness Group, and she plans to raise money to send all the unit’s soldiers at least three care packages in the year they will be deployed. In addition to supporting the soldiers overseas, her group extends help to the stateside families of those deployed.

“I’m so proud of my husband and all the soldiers,” she said in a speech during the ceremony. “Our soldiers aren’t away on a business trip or a vacation, they’re in Iraq ... in harm’s way.”

San Mateo County Event Center General Manager Chris Carpenter said he was “thrilled” to host the event.

“It’s all about them today,” Carpenter said. “We’re adopting the 297th, and we’re going to do everything that we can to support them.”

Medic focused on Iraq work

As traumatizing as the months preceding her deployment to Iraq have been, medic Spc. Lauren Yee still finds a way to concentrate on the duties that lie ahead in Iraq.

“A lot of people are just focused on the job,” Yee said. “I don’t let myself think too much about broader issues. I try to leave my family in the best position possible.”

Yee, the only child of Candice Cain, was four houses away from the San Bruno gas pipeline that exploded Sept. 9. Three weeks after the blast, Yee’s father died in an unrelated incident.

“Everybody is kind of clinging together right now,” Yee said.

Cain had mixed feelings about her daughter’s deployment.

“She gets it,” Cain said. “This is our country and she is prepared to fight for it. But as a mom, she’s my precious, precious baby. Being put in harm’s way is not natural.”

Cain finds comfort that her medic daughter will be wearing a red cross on her uniform, symbolizing perhaps some divine protection.

“She won’t like that,” Cain said with a smile. “But it works for me.”

— Alexis Terrazas

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