In the past week, I've heard of at least six stories of soldiers who have or are thinking of reenlisting or deploying again. I thought to myself. Is this common? Now that we're around the six month mark with troops having returned from Afghanistan, is it typical for soldiers to want to redeploy or reenlist? What percentage want to go back into battle overseas?
I placed a call to Colonel Greg Hapgood's office with the Iowa National Guard to check it out. "That's a real good question", said Hapgood. "We don't track those that want to redeploy because it's really on an individual basis. If a soldier wanted to deploy again, he'd have to go through a series of things..for instance, after a waiting period, he would have to move to another unit that has orders. It's a real small number that do that. What we're trying to do in Iowa is retain the soldiers we have. Some 700 are set to have their contracts expire with us in the coming year. So that's our focus", he added.
I have a couple of soldiers who I'm close to that I decided to ask for feedback. First off, I gave PV2 Pete a call down in South Carolina. I should remind you, Pete has had a difficult time landing a job since he returned home in July. "Pete, I'm checking into the redeployment and reenlistment of Iowa soldiers", I started. "I need you to be up front with me and tell me your thoughts. Have you given any consideration to returning overseas? "Aaaah, interesting you should ask that question, sir", he began. "Two weeks ago I was that close to making a call. Now, I'm not so sure. I've really enjoyed this political trip I've been on since the first of the year. I love helping Rick Santorum's campaign. I'm happy doing this. So for now, I'd say I'm not. But that could change when all this ends", he added. "I have a couple of buddies that have told me they're close to reenlisting. Another one has already asked to redeploy."
Secondly, I thought of my son, Kris. I've seen several of his Facebook posts suggesting he could go back. Could. But that doesn't mean he will. I do know he's looking for the right opportunity in his life right now. Where that is, I'm not sure and for certain, he's not sure. We haven't talked in-depth about his going back, but last night I asked him if he's seriously considering the deployment thing again. "Nah, not right now, I'm not", he said. Okay, I thought, that's good enough for now. However, he could change his mind real quick. Why? Call it a gut feeling or a father's intuition. Kris has wanted to be a soldier since he was a little shaver. I don't see that changing any time soon.
I guess I can't hide the fact, that today, I'm thinking of 2,800 soldiers, families and loved ones that might, and I stress might, reenlist or redeploy. I think of a mother I know who could lose her son for a third time. Is LOSE the right word? Heck, I'm not sure and I'm sure she'd say the same the thing. However, when you have birthdays or holidays and that loved one isn't by your side, it's hard to put another word in place to describe it....because their absence is unmistakable.
Sometime soon there will be a number of Iowa Guardsmen facing a decision as to whether they should sign a new contract. The questions will be......should I, could I and will I? I recall a soldier who was killed in action in Afghanistan last year who had deployed fourteen times. 14. I find it hard to comprehend how someone could deploy that many times. I also find it hard to fathom how a support group at home endured the long days and nights waiting and wondering after he made HIS decision.
Are these soldiers a different breed of people that we're talking about? In some respects, yes...and in other respects, no. I've seen the military machine up close and personal for these past two years. What made the biggest impression on me is the sense of commitment which exists among these men and women that's lacking in today's "outside" world. I stand in awe of you. The one big regret I have in my life is not serving in the military. I'm well aware I won't be able to correct that choice. But what I can do now, is stand in support of a soldier as they decide their next road to travel.
My best to you all soldiers. Whatever your choice, know you've been molders of our future.