BAGHDAD – “Based on the first deployment we had, life is great,” reflected Sgt. Maj. James Reppond, of Monroe, La., while huddled with four other Desert Storm veterans from the Louisiana National Guard’s 225th Engineer Brigade on Sept. 18.
Like the first Gulf War, all five engineer Soldiers deployed together from the same unit; something unique to the National Guard.
“It’s almost like a second family,” said Master Sgt. Glen Stafford of Farmerville, La., a quality assurance engineer for the 225th. “It’s our way of surviving a deployment together.”
Their mission environment this time around is quite different. For starters, living conditions and laundry service were unheard of back then.
“You’ve got to remember, we went from tents with no flooring, no air conditioning; miserable lifestyles to [today] basically just living in mobile homes,” reminisced Chief Warrant Officer Four Wilson Quebedeaux of Marksville, La., the senior maintenance technician for the engineer brigade.
“Some folks had cement mixers they would do their laundry in. We had big trash cans with heaters in them to heat the water,” volunteered Reppond. “Throw in detergent and clothes; stir it around with a stick. That’s all you could do.”
“We had to take bathes out of a gallon and a half tub of water until we constructed our own showers,” added Stafford.
During Desert Storm, all five remember an enemy threat, but not anywhere close to the urban warfare that today’s Soldiers still face on the outskirts of Iraqi cities, like the threats of improvised explosive devices.
“During Desert Storm … movement was freer,” chimed in Master Sgt. Joseph Cole of Deville, La., the brigade’s tactical operations non-commissioned officer. “You really didn’t have to worry (back then) about IEDs or anything like that when you go and move and do your jobs.”
“It’s 100 percent heads up all of the time [now],” echoed Stafford.
There is nearly 150 years of experience accumulated between the five Soldiers who were convinced they would see the battlefield again all these years later.
“Saddam was still in power and as long as he was in power, things weren’t going to be right and eventually we would be back here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Darrell Rabalais of Plaucheville, La., who conducts oversight of contracted engineer projects with Iraqi civilians.
And no matter how times have changed and communication with families has improved, the distance away from families and the wait to return home is still the hardest part.
“When we were in Desert Storm, we would travel 10, 12, 15 miles to get to a phone and maybe get a chance to talk to them once or twice a month,” remembered Cole.
“I couldn’t begin to describe how hard it is on the spouses,” said Reppond. “Most of us back home were the decision makers … and now the wives have to make all of the decisions. It’s pretty tough. I wouldn’t want to go through it.”
“In some ways it’s easier here now because of the technology,” added Rabalais. “We get to call home and get to make those day to day decisions with our spouse, where as Desert Storm, you would only talk to them every couple of weeks.”
For all five, this may be their last deployment, a last chance to defend their homeland away from home, and like the first war here together, their ultimate mission is very clear.
“We keep fighting for what we think is right,” said Quebedeaux. “The reason we’re here is to keep the battle here and not on our home grounds. We will keep our families safe.”