Thursday, June 02, 2005


We Are Not the Same

We’re not the same National Guard unit anymore.

In thinking about our first year of mobilized active duty, that’s the thought I’ve had, more than any other besides how much I miss being home. We’re not the same individuals who left home, and we’re not the same unit, for a variety of reasons.

We’re different as individuals, that’s clear to all who know us well, and even true to all our new friends here in Iraq. We know a lot more, mostly about ourselves, but also about the Army, and living the Active Duty (AD) experience as National Guardsmen and women. We’ve learned a lot about Active Duty, in no small measure thanks to the 30% of our unit that came as AD augmentees. These AD Soldiers are often younger than our Guard, but they’ve been AD from the start of their careers, and most have had an assignment or two under their belt. Their Senior NCOs have traveled the world quite a bit, and are often very senior in their career fields, and they’ve taught us much.

We are a more confident bunch. Even our veterans who’ve seen a thing or two, they have a determination about our missions, they are decisive, they don’t let much get in their way. (Not even some of us leaders, sometimes, when a job needs doing they often get it done before we notice the need.)

These Soldiers know how to Soldier, and they’ve done a great job keeping all their difficulties with deployment, their longing for their homes and families and loved ones, in perspective. Nobody wants to be gone a day longer than the job requires, but they won’t feel right if the job doesn’t get done right. And they’re doing that.

Of course, we’ve learned a lot about the U.S. Reserves and the Guard of other states, as well, as we’ve assimilated another 20-30% of our Soldiers from other Guard and Reserves. They hail from New York, New Jersey, New England States, California and Texas, Kansas and even Puerto Rico. Even within New York State, we’ve taken in outstanding Soldiers from Syracuse, Buffalo and Western NY, Downstate NYC, Long Island, and even Fort Drum itself.

We are as close to the “Rainbow” as any of the subordinate commands in the 42nd ID, herself named the Rainbow by GEN McArthur because her original composition when mustered covered 26 states. We’re pretty close to that, and certainly more of us are from somewhere other than the immediate Capital District of NY.

I said we’re different as individuals, but different as a unit, too. We have a bit of each of our individual states (and countries, too, for our several international Soldiers) represented in the way we see things and do things. They used to say, “In the Army we’re all green,” and maybe you could say we’re all sand or tan, but what that really means is we’re all together. We’re a new family. We’ve bonded in this unique experience called combat, by sharing risk and sacrifice, but lots of friendship and laughter and encouragement, too. For the rest of our lives, we will smile or laugh at things we hear or see that remind us of friends we may likely never see again, and experiences we can share with others as great stories, but possibly not again with each other.

When the time we redeploy, we may have about one week left with all these out new friends, before we each go our separate ways. The Active Duty Soldiers will be shipped off to their next duty assignments. Same for the U.S. Army reservists.

The Guardsmen and women of other states will head back to their states, maybe to their old units, maybe to new ones. A few might have gotten so attached to us, they’ll want to stay with us, and hopefully they can, depending on what the future for the Guard in our State. We already know units will be restructured, and those who currently make up those units will be redistributed into new configurations.

So it really will be the end of a remarkable and all too brief history, the first Guard unit of our kind to be sent to an active combat zone. Fully stood up fully in 1996, we’ll have completed a relatively short 10 year history by the time they figure out where the rest of us will all go next.

Maybe that’s the way of the Army, some of our old timers remember how prior to our current unit configuration, some of us were part of an MP Company.

As we assemble at our Demobilization Site for the last time in our current configuration, with all our new friends, true brothers and sisters in arms, it will be hard to say those last goodbyes. We will want to linger, but will long more for our families and homes and a return to our lives before mobilization.

It reminds me of the final scene in Ocean’s Eleven, when the partners in crime go their separate ways. They are satisfied (and rewarded) by their work to be sure, but there is an air about them of that feeling, if not sadness exactly, maybe a warmly felt regret of remembrance. That by going back to our first homes, we have to say goodbye to this home away from home, not buildings, not tents, not FOBs and Palaces, but the home that was the fellowship with our fellow Soldiers.

UPDATE: If you enjoyed this post, why not stop over at Basil's Blog for Lunch? Lots of good things to consume there, I'll bet!

UPDATE: Mustang 23 at Assumption of Command graciously links to this post, and offers his observations as well. Check around and you see lots of heated discussion about Beef Jerky, too!

UPDATE: Two for One! John Schroeder from Blogotional links both this and the essay from Little Manly. First time visitors, welcome. If you have the time, this is the place. Enjoy! Thanks, John.

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