Multi-National Division–Baghdad Public Affairs
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq – "I guess you could say that I wasn't smart enough to just say 'No thanks!'" laughs Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Cato, a 23-year veteran of the South Carolina Army National Guard, describing his decision to volunteer for his second deployment to Iraq in less than three years.
In February 2004, Cato deployed to southeastern Iraq for one year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Support, 3rd Battalion, 178th Field Artillery Regiment, he lived in a tent with four other Soldiers on Forward Operating Base Tallil and helped monitor and supply 18 U.S. patrol bases established along the main road from Baghdad to the border of Kuwait.
In October 2006, less than 18 months after returning from his previous deployment, Cato joined 39 other Soldiers from the 151st Field Artillery Brigade as they shipped off to Iraq. This time Cato works with American Soldiers assigned to train the Iraqi army and police forces. While his hours are long and tedious, Cato remains positive, quipping, "At least this time I have my own trailer!"
Cato said the hardest part about deploying has been the long separation from his wife, Casey, and his three children Joshua, 12, Jonathan, 11, and Jacob, 6, back in Lancaster, S.C.
"I miss them and love them tremendously," he said. "I am especially thankful for my wife, because I could never have done this without her support."
His family, however, is the primary reason why Cato volunteered for a second deployment. "In my opinion, we have to finish what we started in Iraq. If we fail, the terrorists won't stop until they strike America," he says.
When he compares the current situation in Iraq to his past deployment, Cato firmly believes that the overall situation in Iraq is improving.
"The last time I was here, the U.S. ran everything," he said. "Now the Iraqis have their own public services, their own army and police forces and their own government."
Cato said he's not blind to the many serious problems that beset Iraq, such as roadside bombs and sectarian violence, but he believes that the country is headed in the right direction.
As he looks forward to redeploying home in October, however, the sergeant major understands Iraq's problems will not be solved anytime soon.
"Rome wasn't built in a day," he noted. "We can't expect Iraq to get better overnight."