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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Meet the troops

Capt. Teruo Chinen
 (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Teruo Chinen

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Warrior spirit, exactly what is that?

Teruo Chinen, 32, grew up with it as a child in his father’s karate dojo in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood. His father, also Teruo Chinen, is an internationally renowned sensei, or teacher, of martial arts.

The dojo on South Perry is simple, even nondescript. There is no name, no sign, no screaming advertisements about international prominence. No such thing as a We’re No. 1, in other words.

Teruo Chinen the son is something like this. He is a captain now in the National Guard and he’ll be boarding an airplane today to spend a year in Iraq.

He was born in Spokane, but moved to Heppner, Ore., with his mother after his parents divorced when he was 5 or 6 years old, Chinen said. “I would ride the Greyhound four or five times a year up to Spokane,” to be with his dad, Chinen said.

This meant, of course, being in his father’s dojo.

“There is a warrior mentality and structure,” he said. “It’s a good, healthy lifestyle. I think what he does is teach a lot of people something about themselves.”

Chinen learned about warrior spirit, and he learned something about himself.

He spent 10 years on Forest Service hotshot crews, fighting wildfires, but that wasn’t enough to feed the warrior inside. So he joined the National Guard in central Oregon in 1995 and recently decided to become full-time military.

He is now Capt. Teruo Chinen, commander of G Troop, a company of scouts.

“I love being with soldiers. It’s why I’m in the job I’m in,” he said. “This is exactly what I wished for. There is emphasis on family and doing a good job. And there are good people, too.”

He is recently married and will become a father in January. “I’ll be in Iraq, of course.”

He is hoping for some sort of video link so he can, from afar, be with his wife, Kelly, and attend the birth of their first child, a daughter named Kaydynce.

For Chinen, it seems, warrior spirit is not contained in guns or bombs or marked by chest-thumping.

Chinen walks with an easy gait, his dark eyes often sparkling with humor or curiosity.

His expression of a warrior spirit seems to be more defined by being observant of the world and by being open. During the months of intense combat training on the way to Iraq, Chinen still kept his eyes open, saying, “This might by my only time I will go through here.”

During training at Fort Polk, La., for instance, Chinen was hoping to see alligators. Despite several weeks at the swampy fort, including 10 straight days in the field, alligators were harder to find than a cold beer or a hot shower.

“It was driving me nuts,” Chinen said. “I really wanted to see gators.”

He and some friends rented a car and drove 45 minutes south to where there was supposed to be an alligator farm. When they arrived, the gate was locked and a sign said Closed for the Winter. “It was like the scene from “National Lampoon’s Vacation” when they’re going to Wally World.”

But they were warriors. They got out of the car and began yelling.

“We said, ‘Hey! We’re going to Iraq, can we see some alligators, please? Hey!’ ” Chinen said.

Finally, some old boy who has been feeding the gators came to the gate. “He let us in and said ‘You got 15 minutes.’ “