Editor’s note: The Star Journal will be publishing periodic articles from Sergeant Rick Peterson of Rhinelander during his deployment to Afghanistan.
Our time in Texas continues. As we prepare for our missions in Afghanistan, I give occasional thought to the last time I deployed, with the 951st Engineer Company of Rhinelander/Tomahawk. While there are some similarities, much has changed over four and a half years and the mission designed for each Company is entirely different. Still, it is interesting to see first hand the processes that are undertaken to move a Company of soldiers around the world.
When the 951st mobilized in 2009, we were engaged in various types of specific training for months prior. Some soldiers went to courses to learn how to operate specific equipment such as the Javelin weapon system, the Raven UAV, building search, and other such individualized training. During this mobilization process, I have seen much less in the way of advanced preparatory trainings or schools. This is a vertical construction unit. Many of these soldiers are employed in building trades as civilians and special schools are not critical for this mission. Again, this is due to the differences in the type of mission, and I point it out only to illustrate that one deployment is not like another.
Quite literally, tons upon tons of gear is required in order to deploy a company sized element such as the 829th. In addition to the mission specific equipment that must go forward, each soldier has several duffle bags full to bursting of their assigned military gear, at least one assigned individual weapon, and whatever personal items that they can manage to carry in the limited space they are allowed. In ‘09, we were allowed an additional large plastic tote (approx. 24”x24”x36”) for personal gear (books, DVDs, video games and players, maybe a softball glove, etc.). This is not the case for the current deployment. With Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) coming to a close, the government is cutting expenses and there is neither the room nor the funds to ship an additional amount of “fluff.”
In addition to the gear each soldier must bring, the Company must bring a great deal of its’ equipment for mission specific tasks. Large amounts of construction tools of every variety have been packed and placed in containers to be shipped overseas (we even brought our own wheelbarrows).
Moving that many soldiers and gear also requires a great deal of logisitcal planning and resources. In order to provide oversight and office support, enough supplies must be shipped to stock a headquarters element that acts as the administrative support for the Company. Just as a small civilian company employing more than 150 people must have a personnel office to handle payroll and other human resources related tasks, so must a military Company have a similar arm to perform those functions. Imagine shipping the entire contents of the offices in the place you work to another country so that you can do your job there for a year, and then ship it back when you are done. Computers, printers, files, copiers, you name it, we are likely bringing it along with us.
Have you ever played the party game that poses the question, “If you could only bring one or two things with you to a deserted island, what would you bring?” In a sense, soldiers deploying to Afghanistan and other places around the globe have to answer this question. Our standard issue of gear fills two military duffel bags, at least. We will also be carrying a ruck sack the size of a large backpack. While we have not been given official word, we may be authorized a third duffel (fingers crossed). If so, this will likely be half full of issued gear, and that will leave a small amount of room for personal items.
Each soldier will bring with them an assortment of different items that he or she believes will be necessary to their individual comfort or to occupy themselves in periods of down time. To be sure, almost everyone will bring some sort of electronic device such as a laptop or tablet, an iPod or similar device with music and movies stored on it, and most will bring a camera of some sort. Aside from those things, each will bring whatever makes the time pass, and helps them to deal with the stressors of being away from home, family and the daily routine. All must keep in mind though that they must fit it all in their gear bags or carry it on their person.
What happens to all of the “stuff” we bring? All of the accountable items such as tools, issued gear, office equipment, weapons, must be shipped home when we leave. Accumulated items such as souvenirs, and things that have been mailed to a soldier overseas is often shipped home via USPS at the soldiers expense, rather than carried or packed. Soldiers often pass personal items on to their replacements when their deployment comes to a close. I recall that when I was last in Afghanistan I left behind more than 50 paperback books that I had either brought along or had mailed to me. I must also add that in 2009, everything we attempted to ship home in those handy personal totes was stolen from the shipping container as it waited in Pakistan to be sent back to the States. So, in a sense, we left all of that behind as well.
Each passing day here in Texas brings us closer to the close of Pre-mobilization and the beginning of the real deal. Final preparations continue on a daily basis, both for the Unit and for the soldiers and their families. “Have you prepared a will?” “Do you have a family-care plan established?” “Who will be taking care of your finances while you are gone?” All of these questions and more must have answers before soldiers leave to go overseas. “How do I operate the lawn mower?” “How do we light the pilot light?” “What temperature do I cook the lasagna at and for how long?” “When do we change the furnace filter?” “How often do you water the flowers?” Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, anyone leaving their families behind must answer theses important questions as well.
As spouses, we take for granted that each other completes certain tasks around the house and when the time comes that the other is not available to fill their role, someone still has to see that the task is done. Deployments affect more than just those enlisted in the Armed Forces, they impact husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, girlfriends, boyfriends, pets, employers, co-workers, etc. I am blessed to have the support of many family members, friends, and co-workers. My wife is the most caring and dedicated person I know. She possesses the mental and emotional fortitude to handle almost everything that is thrown her way. Even so, taking on herself the tasks of keeping up with work, kids, our home, laundry, vehicles, dogs, kids school events, kids sporting events, personal finances, and all of the other things that each of us do in our daily lives, all while keeping a stiff upper lip and supporting their soldier, is a tall order. I have the utmost respect for her and others like her that are left to manage the day to day. I sometimes feel soldiers have it easier. We have only one job to do.
Thank you honey.