Editor’s note: In lieu of the current situation in the Middle East and accompanying mobilzation of 3,000 members of the 82nd Airborne to be sent there, the Fireside Guard interviewed three local veterans with the goal of trying to present a picture, in words, of what it is like for the troops and their families. We spoke with Tony Gougeon – formerly of Centralia, a U.S. Special Forces, and Bronze Star recipient, who retired at Sergeant First Class, Captain Erik Anthes of Sturgeon, Bronze Star recipient, who served three tours in Iraq and Major Tim Grenke of Centralia.
Off the plane, the first things that hit many are the temperature and the smell.
Anthes described the smell as something akin to burning trash, “the air felt heavy, smoky, sticking to your skin.” And yes, he said, it was hot, very hot.”
All agreed that deployment can be sudden and stressful.
Anthes and Gougeon agreed that mental stress during combat or potential combat situations made it tough, in the short- and the long-term.
“Iran sent militia forces the day after the Iran Nuclear Deal was finalized,” Anthes said of his service in 2014. “We did know who was who on the battlefield and had a week-long cease-fire because of Iran entering the fight.”
It was during that time that he met Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in Iraq on a fact-finding mission. Anthes recalled one snippet of that conversation for the Fireside Guard. “In a meeting at the US Embassy in Baghdad, Anthes said he told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, ‘If we hit the wrong guy, if we killed the wrong guy, things could get really bad.”
Gougeon, there for the first Desert Storm, and other missions, agreed.
“The 82nd Airborne, is a rapid deployment force. When called to deploy they can be anywhere in the world in 18 hours…Anyway, part of the stress is the mission. We are trained to follow orders and not think about the big picture. Get out there and get the job done.”
And that he said, is one of the things that leads to stress. The problem is, he said, the stress is a hardship some can’t bear
“Training missions, real life missions, stressfull in the field and at home. It’s tough on the families too. Dreading someone is going to come to our home and tell you that they’ve been killed. So much uncertainty adds to the stress. Deployment after deployment the stress builds. The loss of your military brother haunts you forever. The struggle to be a family is often lost,” Gougeon said. “Every 22 minutes a soldier takes their own life.”
Grenke, who has seen service as a United States Marine and as in infantryman and officer in the United States Army, attested to that.
For the complete article, see this week’s edition of the Centralia Fireside Guard.