Martin’s Sgt. Jamie Vancleave (top photo) of the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 913th Engineer Co.
The 913th Engineer Co. is entering the home stretch.
The soldiers in Kuwait and their loved ones back home are counting the days until the Tennessee Army National Guard unit rolls back into Union City from a yearlong deployment.
The 913th is preparing for redeployment home after being deployed in August 2011 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn — during which time the horizontal engineer unit has had soldiers serving in Kuwait as well as Afghanistan.
The local unit is scheduled to return home in August, but an exact date has not yet been set, according to company commander Capt. Jacob Partridge.
“We don’t have a specific date yet. We probably won’t know when we actually come back until four or five days before we deploy,” he told The Messenger Monday by telephone from Kuwait.
Partridge said the soldiers are getting ready for redeployment right now and have already packed everything they will be sending home with the exception of what they will carry on the plane.
Some pieces of equipment have been taken to a port in Kuwait and are awaiting shipment stateside, and many containers filled with gear and other items have been packed.
“It’s a huge ordeal,” he said.
He said guards have been inspecting soldiers’ boxes and the unit has been fortunate to have access to an x-ray machine to scan boxes.
The soldiers are “down to just bare essentials,” which is basically two or three personal duffel bags they will carry with them on their flight home, according to Partridge.
Ready to roll
The 913th’s replacement unit has already started to arrive in the region and they are starting the process of a relief in place procedure, a tactical enabling operation in which a unit is replaced in an area by an incoming unit. In this case, the replacement is a North Carolina National Guard unit, Partridge told The Messenger.
He said the relief in place procedure involves the 913th showing the replacement unit how certain operations are being done and actually working together for a period of time to make a smooth transition. The soldiers from the 913th will also provide valuable insight specific to Kuwait, such as how to get around and where to find what they need.
The transfer of authority ceremony has been scheduled for Aug. 3.
“After that ceremony, they (soldiers from the incoming unit) are completely in charge and it’s not our mission anymore,” Partridge explained. “Then we’re free to fly back home after that, whenever we get a flight.”
The 913th will come home by way of Fort Bliss, Texas, where they will spend five to nine days for military outprocessing, and will fly into Smyrna for some additional outprocessing before traveling by bus to Union City.
Partridge said excitement is building for the return home, but it’s also a very hectic time with another unit coming in and the transition under way.
“Everybody’s on edge. They’re getting excited, but they’re also on edge,” he said. “They’ll probably start getting excited when we find a flight date out. That will ease the tension.”
He said the soldiers are extremely appreciative of all the efforts by everyone back home and he said the 913th’s Family Readiness Group (FRG) has done a great job. He noted the FRG’s recent sale of homecoming T-shirts and planning some type of welcome the day the soldiers return home next month.
“I’m sure there will be a parade through town or something and just a short formation (at the armory),” he said, explaining the soldiers will be anxious to be released to spend time with their families.
“It will be nice for all the soldiers to see the show of support coming back into town like we saw when we left. None of them will tell you it means that much to them, but it does. Everybody tries to act tough. There will be a lot of tears flowing when they’re coming back, though.”
Work & weather
Even though the end of deployment is in sight, the soldiers’ work in the Middle East is continuing through their final days there.
While in Kuwait, the 913th has completed several horizontal construction projects which have accumulated thousands of equipment hours and have included moving thousands of dump truck loads of soil or gravel.
Projects have included construction and maintenance of lots used to store equipment or supplies throughout Kuwait, as well as some de-construction of facilities no longer needed, and construction and maintenance of several miles of road.
The 913th has also had a platoon in Afghanistan working on a priority engineer mission which the company commander previously said will aid in the retrograde of equipment and supplies out of Afghanistan when U.S. forces draw down.
Partridge said the unit has been utilizing a lot of theater-divided equipment, much of which has been uparmored with added measures of protection such as thicker metal or bullet-proof glass. Some of the equipment has been in use there eight or 10 years and is passed along from unit to unit as they are deployed to the region.
Even though a lot of gear has been prepared for shipment home, he said the 913th “is still able to function” and continue its mission in its remaining days in Kuwait.
Partridge said temperatures have “cooled off a little” in the past week to 115 to 120 each day — compared to a couple of days when temperatures soared to a blistering 135 degrees.
He said he smelled an ocean-like smell one day and the flags were flying the opposite direction with a wind coming off the gulf, which is about three miles away.
“It usually blows from the north and brings dry heat,” he said, adding that the change in wind direction from the gulf also brought higher humidity.
Because of the excessive heat, some units utilize a reverse schedule and work at night, but Partridge said the 913th opted not to do a reverse schedule since running heavy equipment is not as productive and is more dangerous at night.
“It’s hard to see out of the equipment anyway,” he said.
“We just adjusted our schedule and start earlier in the morning and cut down on hours.
“It’s typical now to be on the job about 6 a.m. and be done by 12:30 p.m., just half-days.”
He said the soldiers have been careful to drink plenty of water and avoid over-exertion during the excessive heat, recalling a recent personal instance where he found himself drinking an exceptionally high amount of water in a single day to cope.
“It’s amazing what your body will get used to,” he added.
Editor’s note: Chris Menees is a staff reporter at The Messenger in Union City. She may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.