By Staff Sgt. Julie Nicolov, Multi-National Corps " Iraq Public Affairs
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq " New troops often do a double-take when they enter the Al-Faw Palace.
Instead of encountering quiet, stone-faced guards who methodically check security badges, troops assigned to Camp Victory are greeted with big smiles and robust welcomes from the troops of Mortar Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry Regiment, Hawaii Army National Guard.
The welcome wagon is headed up by Assistant Platoon Sergeant Staff Sgt. Clinton Haina, affectionately known by his troops as the "Ambassador of Aloha."
"People call me the Wal-Mart greeter," Haina said with a laugh.
Haina, who hails from Pepeekeo on the Big Island, stands next to the guard desk near the palace entrance wearing his protective vest, helmet and weapon as he greets each person who walks through the revolving doors with their full rank, a big smile and a wish for a good day.
When he isn't deployed, Haina works as a nurse at North Hawaii Community Hospital, and said he learned to have a positive attitude during his medical training.
"My boss told me that your first impression when you walk into a patient's room will make your day go easier," Haina said.
Applying that philosophy to the work he does in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom has had good results.
"Everyday when I greet officers, enlisted and civilians, they come up to me and say, "Thank you, staff sergeant, you make our morning,"" Haina said.
Though Haina and his men were initially slotted to provide light infantry support in the Tikrit area and spent months learning how to clear buildings, conduct security patrols and set up road blocks, once they arrived in country, they realized that plans had changed.
The men of Mortar Platoon have made the best of their new assignment.
"We do things with a smile; that's the way we were brought up," said Sgt. Quintin "Chunky" Quinories, mortar noncommissioned officer.
In the beginning of their tour, however, not everyone responded well to the spirit of Aloha. "Some people questioned, but by watching us, they found that we do know our jobs," Quinories added.
After a while, the people who work at Al-Faw Palace warmed up to the Hawaiian way, and learned that it's a great morale booster. "There's no sense in being all uptight," Quinories said. "Sometimes you have your days, but it's all right."
Some of the leadership have even joined in on the jokes and lightheartedness that keep the National Guardsmen going.
"One sergeant major is always playing jokes," Quinories said. "At first when we started to joke with him we used to get the stink eye, but now he's always cranking on us."
The Ambassador of Aloha is glad that his troops have followed his example.
"The boys at the gate are so positive, too," Haina said. "They're always greeting and smiling."
Even when the day isn't going as planned, Haina's energy prevails.
"Sometimes things don't go right. Haina looks at the positive. You look at him and think, "It can't be that bad,"" said Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Okinaga, platoon sergeant, Mortar Platoon.
The old saying, "Smile and people will wonder what you're up to," certainly holds true in the guard shacks that surround Al-Faw.
Keeping a positive attitude has helped the troops battle homesickness during what is for many of them their first extended period away from home. "Everyone is so close, like a family," Quinories said. "You have a family back home, but you have a family here too."
The men of Mortar Platoon will return to their homes and families in January. Wherever the future takes them, their positive energy will follow.
"The people who work in the palace are always asking, "Why are you so happy? What's the deal?" We call it the "Aloha Spirit." We bring the Spirit to the palace, to wherever we go," Okinaga said.