New trucks are parked outside the Bend Armory while inside soldiers busy themselves, getting ready for a mission to Iraq.
Thousands of Oregon Army National Guard soldiers have known for about a year they would leave for Iraq in mid-2009. The extension was designed to give families and soldiers more time to adjust to the reality of going to war, including the mundane work of getting together the grim paperwork of deployment: wills, finances and other details. Soldiers said the longer notice helps, but the reality that they eventually will go to war can loom over a family.
Now that soldiers know they’re going to Iraq, they want to get on with it.
“This started about two years ago, to be able to stabilize families and jobs,” Capt. Micah Goettl said. “It’s a double-edged sword for families.”
On Saturday, soldiers worked on paperwork and finalized details for their departure. During the weekend, the armory felt like a school, with soldiers sitting in classrooms learning about what needed to be done before they deploy. Lately, soldiers also have been training on the new equipment. The armory, for example, has a garage big enough for soldiers to repair large Army trucks. Fixing a broken truck in Bend is not only practical, it’s training. The trucks in Oregon are the same kinds soldiers will fix in Iraq, Goettl said.
“Everything we do is designed for training for missions,” Goettl said.
The support company has diverse responsibilities. Some will drive the new “contact trucks,” which are a kind of rolling garage, packed with tools and parts to repair vehicles in the field. Other support soldiers will drive trucks delivering ammunition and other supplies. Still others will cook.
The roughly 90 soldiers in the company will be in the field soon.
If the current plan holds, the Bend-based forward support company will go to Iraq, the company’s second tour there, Goettl said.
1st Sgt. Gavin McIlvenna, 38, an Oregon State trooper based in Hood River, has served around the world. When asked where, his captain begins counting off the places on his fingers: Bosnia, Hungary, Iraq, Europe and Africa. McIlvenna joined as a paratrooper and served on active duty for nearly a decade. In those days, he’d find out about deployment and be gone within days. Just as he needed to be flexible with deployments, his duties sometimes shifted.
“I’ve driven Belgian tanks, and I’m not a tanker,” McIlvenna said.
McIlvenna, who will serve as Goettl’s adviser, will help soldiers cope with being deployed and help keep morale up. Goettl’s Oregon Army National Guard company is part of the 41st Brigade Combat Team, which is made up of about 3,500 members — all of whom are expected to deploy.
Most of the forward support company lives around Bend or Burns, though Goettl said some of the soldiers live on the west side of Oregon, from Medford to Portland.
McIlvenna’s wife, Amy, is a first lieutenant who will also deploy with the Guard. She’ll serve as a nurse. McIlvenna and his wife aren’t unique in deploying at the same time.
Pvt. Nicole Jordan, 23, of Redmond, deploys as a cook, and her husband, Ryan, with whom she has two children, is already deployed as a member of the Naval Reserves.
The extended notice has been helpful for Jordan as she readies for her first deployment. She isn’t certain yet who will care for her children, but the extended notice gives her time to find some help. Jordan also has time to notify Cessna Aircraft Co., where she works in data entry, that she’ll be gone.
She said she loves being a cook in the Guard. The heat, though, over the stoves is hot enough in Central Oregon, let alone in the sweltering desert heat of Iraq.
Still, she’s eager for her first deployment even if she’s worried about leaving her children in Oregon.
“I’m excited,” Jordan said. “But it’s a bittersweet feeling.”
Goettl, 37, lives with his family in Albany and will be going on his second tour to Iraq. He works at a private body armor and ballistics testing lab in Salem. He first served in Iraq in 2005 as a member of the Idaho Army National Guard.
During Goettl’s first time in Iraq, his wife, Brittaini, gave birth to their first daughter. Goettl listened to the birth by phone, an experience he described as “scary as hell.” He was home for their second daughter’s birth.
“I’m glad I was home in order to see it,” Goettl said. “I would rather deploy now, when they’re young and don’t remember it.”
But staying in touch has become easier than ever, even between Goettl’s first and next trip to Iraq. That, Goettl said, makes it easier for families because they can be in frequent contact with their soldiers. He’ll be able to instant message and video conference with his wife.
It used to take weeks, at least, for mail to reach the U.S. or Iraq, Goettl and McIlvenna said. The news in the letters was already old, so soldiers and their families lived on a lag, trailing behind what their loved ones were actually experiencing.
Now, quick check-ins are easier, McIlvenna said. Soldiers can have a quick “hello” and update. They don’t need to try and cram all of their news into one letter or call. That, too, eases some of the pressure.
The long notice before being deployed has helped ease families into the reality of the upcoming mission, Spc. Christopher Harrison, 40, of Bend, said. It gives him time to explain to his youngest daughter what it means that he’ll be in Iraq. He can get bill payments set up, including house payments, he said. But, Harrison, who will drive trucks in Iraq, said he’s ready to go.
That’s a paradox the soldiers go through. It’s better for family life to prepare slowly for their departure. But the soldiers, once they know they’re facing deployment, are itching to go.
Harrison will also be on his second tour of Iraq. Driving trucks, he’ll run supplies to forces away from the base. This time, he feels more prepared.
“I’m actually not as nervous as last time,” Harrison said. “You kind of know the lay of the land.”