|Attending daughter’s graduation a welcome homecoming for soldier |
|Posted: Monday, May 14, 2012 9:17 pm |
| By KEVIN BOWDEN |
Shane Hutchens of Obion is taking a few days off work to attend his daughter’s high school graduation.
Hutchens is a staff sergeant in the Union City-based 913th Engineer Co. currently serving in Ku-wait.
He has traveled more than 7,000 miles to watch his daughter, Kayla, graduate from Obion County Central High School on Friday night.
Hutchens reunited with his wife, Dana, and daughter last week. It has been a particularly emotional homecoming for the entire family, considering Mrs. Hutchens is battling breast cancer.
“It’s been hard. The kids have helped out a lot,” Mrs. Hutchens said as she relaxed sitting next to her husband at the kitchen table in their Obion home.
“He’s been behind me 100 percent; we talk as much as we can,” Mrs. Hutchens said, referring to Skype and GoogleTalk.
What has helped her through her ordeal is being surrounded by her extended family — Kayla, her 18-year-old brother Josh Hutchens and Shane Hutchens’ adopted daughter, 13-year-old Jasmine Hutchens.
Since Hutchens has been serving in Kuwait, Mrs. Hutchens said she and Kayla, Josh and Jasmine have all become very close and they have been very supportive.
“You know, if anything positive can come out of breast cancer, you know when I left I was worried about how the stepchildren were going to be as far as their relationship with their stepmother. Man, I’m like the outsider now. They have bonded so good. It has really bonded our family ties with us,” Hutchens said.
During his brief furlough, Hutchens has been spending nearly all his time visiting his family and friends.
“I decided I was not going to make a schedule while I was here. I’m going to let my schedule come to me,” he said. “I want to spend as much time with my family as I can. It’s important.”
Hutchens said he flew from Kuwait to Germany to refuel and then on to Atlanta, where he had to clear customs before ending his 18-hour flight in Memphis.
“It was about a 22-hour day all together,” he said.
Now that he’s home, Hutchens is enjoying visiting one of his favorite hangouts — his kitchen table.
“Sitting down and having a family dinner, that’s my thing,” he said. “It’s our family time.”
While he’s home, Hutchens has been driving Jasmine to school every morning and she has been staying with the Hutchens family in Obion.
As far as his daily routine in Kuwait, Hutchens said that has changed recently because of the summer heat.
A normal day meant working from around 5 a.m. until 5 p.m., but now the temperatures are climbing higher than the 100-degree mark and the soldiers are having to beat the heat by working shorter days. He said there has also been talk of working nights to escape the oppressive heat of the desert.
As far as life in Kuwait, Hutchens said, “I would say the partnership in Kuwait is a pretty good partnership. They (the Kuwaiti people) understand why we’re there.”
“Our lifestyles are different from theirs and their lifestyles are different from ours,” he said. However, he added he has seen signs supportive of the American presence, such as one sign alongside a Kuwaiti interstate that stated “God Bless American Troops.”
“I would say the relationship we have is good but, at the same time, we don’t interact. We don’t go to their mosques and they don’t come to our churches,” Hutchens said.
Living in the Persian Gulf region has meant some adjustments in daily life for Hutchens. Although his isn’t a combat unit, the soldiers are working in a combat area.
“Now, we still do our battle drills, just in case,” he said. Sirens are broadcast over speakers when an incident has occurred and he said that is their cue to “jump in the bunkers.”
“It’s not something you have to worry about on a day-to-day activity,” he said. “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen on an isolated incident; we’re at a constant ready. … but it’s not something we see every day.”
As far as the living conditions in Kuwait, he said, “They are probably the best I’ve ever had when I’ve been deployed.”
He described his living quarters as a metal warehouse with concrete floors and air conditioning. Hutchens said when it’s 140 degrees outside, it will be about 90 degrees inside and he and his fellow soldiers are grateful for that. Each of the housing units contains bunkbeds and houses about 62 soldiers.
“You put a pair of shorts on and a T-shirt and turn a fan on and it’s actually not that bad,” he said.
Hutchens compared the living conditions in Kuwait favorably to those when he was stationed in Afghanistan, living in tents with no running water.
As far as troop morale, Hutchens said the support has been tremendous from back home and there is a noticeable improvement in troop morale with the date nearing for the unit’s return home.
“Morale’s OK right now, and it’s going up,” Hutchens said.
He specifically cited visits by famous artists and personalities, such as country singer Toby Keith and actor Dennis Haysbert, as inspiration to the troops in Kuwait.
“The churches and the towns and all the people…have absolutely been overwhelming,” Hutchens said.
He described how troops in Kuwait read and watch heavily censored news reports that portray their presence in Kuwait as unwanted and unnecessary, but then a card will come in the mail from someone they don’t even know that says, “God bless you.”
“And it’s awesome,” Hutchens said. “I’d just like to give them all a big hug; everybody that’s been supportive, I’d just like to give them a big hug. They’ve been awesome.”
Hutchens and the rest of his National Guard unit are heading into the homestretch of their one-year deployment in Kuwait. The unit left Union City in mid- August 2011 and traveled to Fort Bliss, Texas, to train for their overseas deployment. From there, the 163 soldiers flew to Kuwait in early October 2011 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The unit is scheduled to return to Union City this coming August.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 5.14.12