ONTARIO — Cody Harvey, who works at the US National Guard Armory in Ontario, just completed basic training in April. His mother, Autumn Harvey, said it was a surprise to learn “just 72 hours later that he would be deployed to Kuwait this year”.
“He never even went to practice,” she said on Monday afternoon.
She had traveled from La Grande to see her son off, as he joins 15 others from the Ontario Armory who are deployed to Kuwait.
All are armored crew members and about half of them are new soldiers who have just completed basic training in the past four to five months, according to 1st Lt. Matthew Booher. He is one of those deployed and the acting public affairs officer for the Oregon portion of the deployment.
For their trip overseas, the 16 members of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment will join members of the 2nd Battalion of that regiment out of Idaho. Booher says they have integrated into this battalion and have been training with them for several months.
The troops won’t be going overseas right away. Their first stop will be Fort Bliss, Texas, for at least two months of tank training before heading overseas, according to Booher.
According to Booher, the 16 leaving the Oregon base include 14 men and two women. All are armored crew members.
He said they found out in February that they would be deployed, and everything “has been a bit of a blur since then”.
In addition to a list of 16 who were to be deployed, there was a list of alternates “just in case”. Booher said they had to “swap a few,” including some as recently as last week.
The deployment will last for a year and while others have deployed before, it will be the first time for others who are brand new soldiers.
“They’re excited to graduate from basics and go straight into it,” Booher said. “Everyone is looking forward to it.”
A demonstration of love
Friends and family of soldiers showed up to say goodbye on Monday afternoon, spending the last moments they could with loved ones they won’t see in person next year. Some were inside in the dining room, decorating billboards with special messages, which they would eventually hold up as the group left.
Among them were Angie and Geraldo Lopez from Ontario. Their son, David Rangel, has been in the military for six years; however, this is his first deployment. Angie said their other son, Staff Sgt. Anthony Rangel, has been in the military since he graduated from high school, although he was first in the United States Marine Corps before joining the National Guard. He is also stationed in Kuwait. The Rangel brothers are both graduates of Ontario High School.
Callie Hawley and her daughters, Leila and Ellie, were also busy waving for their family’s patriarch: Staff Sergeant. James Hawley of Boise, who is also based at the Ontario Armoury. He has been in the military for 20 years and this will be his second overseas deployment.
Hawley said this would be his first deployment for Leila, commenting that with home schooling it would be easier to connect with him whenever possible.
“It’s helpful – especially with his ten hour head start,” she said.
When they connect, it will probably be late at night here and around noon in Kuwait. But with a flexible homeschooling schedule, she says, there’s no need to worry about being too tired for lessons, as they can adjust the children’s school schedules accordingly.
Another thing that Callie Hawley mentioned was that when she was last deployed, there weren’t as many technological communication tools as there are now.
“They can now play Nintendo together [online]she said of Hawley and her children. “For his first deployment, we didn’t even have Facetime.”
When talking about her son being a new soldier, Autumn Harvey was asked if she was worried. His answer was “always”. However, she said one thing that helps is having ongoing support and communication with her friends and family, especially her sisters.
The support of others is also important for soldiers. Regarding this, Booher said there are some pretty simple ways to do this, including letting the troops know they are being thought of. This can include saying “hello” when you see them, or continuing to talk and offer support to those you know. He also said that if anyone would like to send items or care packages, this can be arranged by contacting your local armory.
A show of support
The soldiers left the armory around 3 p.m., headed for a white bus heading for Boise with their gear already loaded inside. The bus was flanked front and rear by an assortment of vehicles from local first aid agencies, which provided an escort. Some escorted them to the Yturri Beltline and to Interstate 84, or to Boise.
As they left, they passed under an oversized American flag hanging from the Vale Fire Department’s new ladder truck. About an hour before that, Sgt. Bailey Frasch, who is also deployed, helped members of the Vale and Nyssa fire departments raise the flag attached to the ladder.
According to Ontario Fire Chief Terry Leighton, the Ontario Fire Department was unable to bring in their ladder truck because they are having mechanical issues with the ladder. However, they showed up with other vehicles, one that would accompany the soldiers to Boise.
“It’s important because they are fighting for our freedom and for others around the world,” the leader said in a telephone interview Monday. “It’s the least we can do.”
Leighton noted the sacrifices service members make for themselves and their families, commenting that “being deployed is really a special thing.”
He also talked about how being a first responder is a “perfect transition” to civilian life for many people with military careers. In his previous department, the chief said there were “a lot of guys at the start who were mostly Vietnam vets.” And, while he doesn’t have exact numbers, Leighton said between staff and volunteer firefighters in Ontario, there are at least six who are veterans.
Members of the Ontario Police Service also joined the escort. This included Chief Michael Iwai, who in a message earlier Monday called the soldiers “warriors”.
“As a veteran, I can only thank the men and women who serve our great country,” he said. “I wish each of them a speedy and safe return to their families.”
Oregon State Police Lt. Mark Duncan also commented on what it was like to be part of the dispatch and escort.
“The Oregon State Police are honored and proud to support our military. That said, OSP will assist whenever possible to show support for our military personnel who deploy to protect our great country and enable us the freedom we all enjoy.
Members of the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office were also part of the escort. Comments from the sheriff and deputy were not available at press time.
Operation Spartan Shield
Those mobilizing from Oregon to Kuwait will be part of Operation Spartan Shield in Southwest Asia, a joint mission, according to a press release from the Oregon Military Department on Sunday. The mission falls under US Central Command and is part of Operation Enduring Freedom. This operation “focuses on theater security, while strengthening and building relationships with defense partners in Southwest Asia,” the statement said.
The soldiers are all tank crew members led by Booher and Hawley. They are all “members of the traditional guard who train one weekend a month and train for two weeks a year, usually in the summer. Most are from surrounding communities and have full-time civilian jobs, are attending college, or are between jobs,” the statement read.
The US military had “roughly a continuous presence for 30 years” in Kuwait, Booher said.
Iraq first invaded and then occupied Kuwait on August 2, 1990. “A US-led multinational coalition then liberated Kuwait in February 1991,” according to US State Department information. “Kuwait is also an important partner in U.S. counterterrorism efforts, including efforts to block funding for terrorist groups,” the information said.
Although the United States does not provide development assistance to Kuwait, it does provide “military and defense technical support” to the country through foreign military and commercial sales. Additionally, US personnel are assisting the Kuwaiti military with training, education and readiness, according to reports.
The U.S. National Guard has been very active in overseas mobilizations since 2001. According to National Guard Fact Sheet 2022, since 9/11 of that year, there have been “more than one million mobilizations abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, the Balkans, Guantanamo. Bay, Sinai and other places. Currently, more than 20,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen serve in overseas missions.