Monday, September 24, 2007

Ready to Deploy

Army National Guardsmen assigned to the First Battalion of the 1-179th Infantry Company, affiliated with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, are packing up and preparing to deploy on a mission in Iraq.

The men and women will be at home with their families and at their jobs for the next three weeks to prepare for the year or more they may be gone, then will head to Norman where they will have their good-bye ceremony Oct. 18.

The Guardsmen then leave for Fort Bliss on Oct. 24 for training before shipping out.

Many of those who will be leaving are young men, barely out of their teens. Others are veterans of other deployments who have shared some of their experiences with their comrades during this preparation time.

They will be leaving behind brides, new babies, girlfriends, dying parents and all the other pieces of their civilian lives. And as they clean their weapons and pack equipment for their mission, they look forward to serving their country.

Luke Garrison, who just turned 23, works for First Baptist Church in Ponca City.

He will be leaving behind his wife Mary-Beth and their 7-month-old daughter Abigail Love. But unlike others in his unit, he's taking a large portion of his family with him.

Garrison's twin brother, Ben, and their 20-year-old brother Levi will be with him.

"It's not often you can take half your family to Iraq," Luke said. "We are leaving our parents and sister behind, and we tried to talk our sister into going."

Their mother is proud of them, Luke said, though not excited about their leaving.

"It is important to us to keep the three of us together," Ben Garrison said. "They were going to split us into three platoons, but our captain came through for us and kept us together."

The Guardsmen started hearing rumors of the deployment about the first of the year, Luke Garrison said.

"We were notified before our last annual training period in July," he said.

Once all the packing is completed today, the unit will be ready to pick up and go next month.

At least they'll be ready physically. They have the next three weeks to prepare emotionally with their families and to put things in order at their jobs.

"We'll be talking a lot and getting our finances in order," Luke Garrison said of the preparations he will make with his wife and other family members.

"There is nothing easy about leaving for a year," he said. "But it is our job. It's part of why we signed up. We do this so people back here can stay here and do their jobs and live free."

Ben, his twin, has worked as Tonkawa police officer for just under a year.

"I graduated from my CLEET training the day before we left for training," he said.

Ben has a girlfriend, Kali, who he has dated for about a year.

"They are all scared," Ben Garrison said. "Nobody wants to be left behind. It's harder to be the passenger than the driver where you are in control. At least we will know what we are doing and will have some control over our situation."

Youngest brother Levi was pulled out of college at the University of Central Oklahoma for this deployment. He had not yet declared a major, but said he was leaning toward public relations and politics. He has maintained a 3.7 grade point average and is a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.

"It's neat that we are finally getting to go overseas," he said. "We all stand together on the war. We'd much rather fight it over there than over here."

Levi, who said he is currently single, said he loves the unit.

"My brothers and many of my best friends are in the unit. We're a big family," he said.

When it comes to their own family, the brothers all said they are tight-knit.

"We like to spoil Luke's baby girl with our riches," Levi said.

"He has a baby that looks like she should be on the Gerber baby food jar," Ben said.

Luke Garrison said all three of the brothers are "Mama's Boys." The entire family are members of First Baptist Church of Ponca City, where the brothers, all baritones, sang the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" on July 4 while wearing their dress uniforms.

"The whole family is musical," Luke said. "We kept getting criticism from the kitchen and the bathroom about not being on pitch while we practiced."

Ben said the church recognizes troops each year.

"It's nice we have a church to back us," he said. "We have people who stop us and tell us they have us in their daily prayers."


Each guardsman has a different story to tell.

Robert Smotherman, 34, is from Idabel in southeast Oklahoma.

He and his wife Lisa have five children — Ashley, Bailey, Nick, Jessica and Logan, ranging in age from 8 to almost 16.

"My daughter is almost 16. She thinks she's going to get to drive my truck while I am gone," Smotherman said.

Smotherman was deployed last year in Operation Enduring Freedom.

He was deployed for 15 months, with three months in Mississippi training and 12 months in Afghanistan. He returned in late April.

"I volunteered to go to Iraq after returning from Afghanistan," he said. "I had signed up for another six years. I figured the Army owned me and I might as well give them what they were paying for."

Smotherman said it was easier for him and for his family to make the choice to go.

"It is not as stressful for them that I'll be gone for 12 months. The stress for them will be in knowing Dad is going to Iraq and might not come back.

He spent six months in Kabul working in S3 operations.

"My last six months I was in Kandahar as a police trainer," he said. "I'm also a state-certified police officer in Oklahoma. We were picked to train Afghan police."

Smotherman joined this National Guard unit less than two weeks ago.

"I've never been with these guys before, so this is time for us to get to know each other and get comfortable. These guys have been training with each other for the last few months and I just got here Sept. 11."

This is Smotherman's third deployment, he said.

"I was in Egypt for six months in 2002 and 2003," he said.

"The National Guard needs all the capable people they can get to go," he said. "We're going to go and be there until we are done."

He said his fellow guardsmen are 100 percent dedicated and eager to get their training before their mission.

"We are doing what the country has asked us to do, and that's fight this war," Smotherman said.


Specialist Bobby Evans, 21, has been with the unit for more than a year.

He is a newlywed who married his wife Lacie on Aug. 13, the one-year anniversary of their first date.

"We don't have kids yet, but we're working on that before the deployment," he said.

In his civilian life, he works at Rent-A-Center in Ponca City.

"This is my first combat deployment, but I did go down to work during Hurricane Katrina," he said.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he said of the unit. "We have a huge relationship outside of our training. It gives our wives people to hang out with.

Evans said he is planning to make a career of his military service.

"Our mission is so open, our training has been open. We are ready for anything that may come up there," he said. "That goes to our leadership. I wouldn't have gotten as good training if the trainers hadn't all been veterans."

Evans is another who calls himself a "Mama's boy."

"I've been watching my sister grow up. She's 14. We are seven years and 12 hours apart to the minute," he said. "We were both born on Dec. 23 at 5:13. I was a.m. and she was p.m."

They usually go out to dinner to celebrate their birthday together.

"It's not a huge birthday, but Christmas is always nice. It's kind of our day."

He said the main thing he will concentrate on during the next three weeks is hanging out with his wife, family and friends as much as possible.


Leaving family and friends behind will be hard for all of those who are being deployed, but for Michael Semler of Drumright it will be a bit tougher.

"My father has cancer. They just switched his chemo," the 22-year-old said. "He and my old sergeant found out about the same time that they both have cancer."

Semler joined the National Guard when he was a junior in high school.

"I went to basic training that summer and went back to school for my senior year. I broke my wrist two days before I was supposed to return for training, so I got to enjoy some of that summer."

He has been married to his wife Jennifer since July 7. The couple has a son, Caden, who just turned a year old.

"We named him Caden Michael after my dad," he said.

"My aunt died a couple of years ago of cancer. She was 40. My dad is just 42," he said.

"I listen to country music a lot and they have all these kid and dad songs that are so sad."

Semler said he tries not to think about it too much as he prepares for the mission ahead.

"I haven't gotten too many details. All I know is we're going over there somewhere. I've heard 30 different rumors."


Erudite Redneck said...

Yer doin' good, mi amiga.

Trixie said...

Thank you.