Kuwait: A different kind of deployment for troopsPublished 9:00am Monday, November 14, 2011
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — All deployments are different, but this deployment to Kuwait is unique in many different ways.
One of the ways the deployment is unique is the current mission, helping draw down troops and equipment from Iraq and helping end a war, according to Maj. Eric Di Natale, part of the Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment of the National Guard.
“We’re helping close this last chapter,” Di Natale said.
Di Natale, who’s from Red Wing and originally from Rochester, N.Y., is on his fifth deployment. He’s also been to Kosovo twice, Iraq and Afghanistan. On this deployment and in Kosovo from 2007-08 he was with the National Guard, on the first three he was active duty Army.
“Each unit’s mission is different,” Di Natale said.
Another unique aspect of this Kuwait deployment is that the mission of the 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, of which Albert Lea’s Delta Company and Austin’s 1135th Combat Support Company are a part of, has been constantly changing. Di Natale said that because the infantry unit has so many different skills, they can be used for different purposes.
Albert Lea’s Delta Company is finished training to be a MRF, or Mobile Reaction Force, and Austin’s unit is working on that training. Working to be an MRF was one of the first missions, but now the battalion is helping secure routes for troops and equipment from Iraq to help get everything out before the end of the year. Though there is no indication what the new mission will be for the battalion after the end of the year, it could be that they act as an MRF for the surrounding area. Di Natale said typically there is one mission and focus on a deployment, and he said it can be tough on soldiers to have things constantly changing.
“We’ve got some great soldiers,” Di Natale said. “And mission changes keep things interesting.”
Di Natale said having so many different missions, and consequently different training and duties, can help fight that constant worry of commanders — complacency.
“It’s something we always worry about when soldiers are doing the same thing day in and day out,” Di Natale said.
Delta Company’s commander, Capt. Eric Athman, agreed that there’s a different adventure every day.
“I haven’t had one day the same since I got here,” Athman said.
Staff Sgt. Travis Thorson, who’s been deployed to Kuwait, Afghanistan and Kosovo, said every tour was different.
“This one is difficult with so many changes,” Thorson said.
He compared this deployment to Kuwait to Kosovo, but said in Kosovo they had one specific job and that even though he worked 12-hour days it was an easy deployment.
One of the first thing soldiers say when comparing this deployment to past ones is that communication with family and friends back home is radically different. Internet is widespread enough in Kuwait that soldiers can email, video chat and communicate on Facebook and instant messenger services. Di Natale said not that long ago it was hard to even be able to make a call to family once a week. When he was in Kosovo for the first time around 10 years ago there was one phone bank at the main base, and that was basically the only phone available.
“I wrote letters more back then,” Di Natale said.
Now he can video chat with family and even check his children’s grades online to keep up with their schooling.
As part of the expeditionary force with the 101st Airborne Division of the Army, Di Natale and other soldiers were often deployed to places without a big base like Camp Buehring. This meant sleeping in tents and being creative with showers. In Iraq they slept in former Iraqi army buildings. His first time in Kosovo with the Army he and other soldiers were protecting churches that were being targeted so they set up camp in the church annex. With the National Guard, his second time in Kosovo was a little more comfortable because they had wooden buildings on a base to live in. While in Kuwait now, at a large base like Camp Buehring, he has a trailer he shares with another major.
“These are the best living conditions I’ve had on a deployment,” Di Natale said.
Part of a team
Di Natale said he enjoys being a part of the National Guard because while there are changes, much of the team is people he’s known from the Kosovo deployment and from being Delta Company’s commander from 2006-08.
“You know your team better — know your strengths,” Di Natale said.
Di Natale said he’s also impressed with the battalion’s leadership and said that three of the first sergeants came from Delta Company, one of the smallest companies in the battalion. They are 1st Sgt. Milton Paulsen, 1st Sgt. Ray Folven and 1st Sgt. Matthew Price.
Di Natale said each time he returned from deployments with the 101st Airborne Division there was always family and friends gathered in a gymnasium to greet them, and it was appreciated. But he said he was pleasantly surprised to see the homecoming for the Delta Company after the deployment to Kosovo in 2007-08.
“It was truly amazing,” Di Natale said.
He was surprised to see the Minnesota State Patrol and Patriot Guard meet the soldiers’ bus at the state line and escort them all the way to Albert Lea. He was also surprised to see police, firefighters and ambulances as well as hundreds of people lining the streets before getting to the Armory, which was also packed with people.