By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
The Army’s last heavy cavalry regiment is preparing for its third deployment to Iraq.
After serving from 2003-2004 and 2005-2006, troopers will head back to Iraq in November.
The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which relocated to Fort Hood in July 2006 from Fort Carson, Colo., spent a month starting in June at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., to prepare for the deployment.
THE REAR COMMAND
The regiment will spend the time before it ships out, preparing its soldiers and families for the coming year and any issues that might occur, said Capt. David Olsen, who will serve on the Headquarters and Headquarters Troop’s rear command. He formerly led Lightning Troop in 3rd Squadron. The rear will be led by Maj. Jonathan Larsen, who served as executive officer for 1st Squadron.
The rear detachment is responsible for looking after the families and taking care of wounded soldiers while also training individual replacement troops who will be sent downrange after the main body deploys.
The rear command will consist of several hundred soldiers.
Leaders want to make sure young families are educated and their children are enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System and health care, and that they are mentally prepared for the deployment.
“No separation is easy,” Larsen said.
Leaders are counting on the family readiness groups and spouses who have been through a deployment to help those younger families. Larsen’s wife was a soldier herself and can provides spouses with that perspective.
The groups kick it into high gear once the soldiers deploy and Sgt. 1st Class Gary Villalobos, who has been married for seven years, said that the groups during “dwell time,” or time when units are not deployed and at their homestations, isn’t the same as a family readiness group during a deployment. Villalobos was awarded a Silver Star after he returned fire, called in armor support and evacuated an officer who has been shot several times during a heavy attack.
Spouses work really well together to ensure everybody is prepared, Larsen said.
His wife is one of those experienced spouses the rear command is referring to. Villalobos calls her a “perfect military wife,” and this will be their third deployment together. She gets involved in the family readiness groups and has made friends in the Fort Hood area. She also has some family near, so the extension is not so hard for her, he said, though she doesn’t like it and “had a few things to say about it.”
But the groups don’t just benefit married soldiers and their spouses. Pfc. Kevin Kelsey, of Headquarters and Headquarter Troop, 3rd Squadron, was impressed with how the groups kept his parents informed. The unmarried private will deploy for the first time and said his parents knew things that even he didn’t know.
Officials are also preparing the soldiers by making sure they have completed the necessary paperwork like powers of attorney. Because of the extension deployments announced in April, about 60 percent of the regiment’s families will go back to their hometowns, Larsen said.
Olsen said that the extension wasn’t welcomed, but it was easier on the soldiers and families knowing about it before they deployed.
“At least we know,” he said.
When the soldiers deployed to the National Training Center in early June, the rear command was able to do a “practice run” that was very beneficial, Olsen said. It gave leaders an opportunity to experience some of the same scenarios they will encounter in the coming year.
Rear command leaders also have spent time with the 1st Cavalry Division’s rear command, led by Col. Larry Phelps. The 1st Cavalry command is well into its rear operations since its soldiers began deploying late last year and endured news of the extension mid deployment.
Villalobos has served in a rear detachment before and doesn’t envy the work ahead of Larsen and Olsen.
“Rear ‘d’ is a monster,” he said. “At time I wished I was deployed.”
The regiment’s commander, Col. Michael Bills, recognizes that soldiers can’t do their job as well in theater if they are not confident their families are being taken care of, Larsen said. He has chosen people who have served in combat and know what it’s like to lead the rear command.
“Soldiers leave knowing we’re taking care of their families,” Larsen said.
THE SOLDIERS PREPARE
The National Training Center rotation began in early June and lasted one month. The rotation actually went better than expected, said Lt. Col. Nathan Hines, the regiment’s deputy commanding officer. The soldiers exercised command and control movements like they would in Iraq.
This is training the soldiers didn’t get to do at Fort Hood, Hines said. The first time the soldiers set all their equipment up for fielding was in April.
The training at the center was excellent, Kelsey said. Though this is his first deployment, he said it helped prepare him for what to expect. He thought that the scenarios they experienced at the center is like what they’ll encounter in Iraq.
“They hit us with a lot of stuff and often,” Kelsey said.
The training in the California desert has changed since Villalobos was there last. The training he experienced last time was more focused on Cold-War tactics and didn’t prepare the soldiers as well for operations in the Middle East. This time was different, though. There wasn’t a single day where their plates weren’t full, he said. Whether it was scenarios dealing with Iraqi police beating up a detainee to insurgents attacking a combat outpost, the training was “very intense,” the sergeant said.
This updated training now includes “operations exactly like in Iraq,” he added.
The soldiers returned from the National Training Center in July and are currently on leave. Upon return, they will spend two months making final preparations. That includes the final paperwork, loading their gear and even pre-post traumatic stress disorder training where combat veterans told the first-time deployers what to expect. Soldiers really opened up during these sessions, Villalobos said. The first-timers were curious about everything from fears to what things to bring. The veterans helped dispel a lot of rumors, too, he said.
A majority of the soldiers in Kelsey’s platoon have not deployed, but a majority of the noncommissioned officers have, he said.
The troopers will conduct some more gunnery and urban-operations training at Fort Hood before deploying, Hines said.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547