News: Stateside team prepares soldiers for mobilization
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
AUGUSTA, Maine - The war in Iraq is officially over and NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan is set to end next year, according to U.S. officials, but soldiers are still being deployed in great numbers. Just this month, nearly 150 Maine Army National Guard soldiers from the 133rd Engineering Battalion and 1035th Survey and Design Team left for a deployment to Afghanistan.
National Guard soldiers, often called the ‘citizen soldier’ because of their dual missions, were once thought of as the last line of defense, but now a high percentage are combat veterans and will likely deploy.
The Maine National Guard works hard to make sure their soldiers are not only well trained for deployments, but that they have the support staff in place, both at home and overseas.
Known as the White Cell a team of support personnel that is not a part of the mobilizing unit works with the deploying soldiers from the first notification, until the soldiers return home. Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kevin Doody, Deputy Administrative Officer said that the support staff in the White Cell works with the mobilization training site for processing, medical, dental and personnel files.
The White Cell makes sure that the soldier records are all in compliance with the requirements of the station. They also act as a liaison between the unit, and the home station to resolve any conflicts. They are, in effect, an advocate for the soldier, to make sure the troops are taken care of.
Not all states are set up to conduct pre-mobilization screening.
“In Maine, the Deputy Chief of Staff Personnel is the lead in the manning piece of a deployment,” said Doody. “We coordinate all events between the mobilizing unit chain of command and outside agencies required to conduct the in-state checks, both initial and final.”
Maine wants to take a proactive stance towards deployments and ensure there are no surprises when the soldier gets to their final records review at mobilization station.
Capt. Lisa Sessions, Battalion Administrative Officer for the 133rd, felt as though the state did an excellent job of getting them ready for this deployment.
“We had the opportunity to go to all of the schools we needed to attend to make sure we were well prepared,” she said. “I think everyone was at least given the option to go to a school to increase their skill set. On top of that, we spent time at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site (Vermont) during our annual training on the range, and enhancing our overall unit cohesiveness.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kartika Wright is the property book officer for the 52nd Troop Command, Maine Army National Guard and one of the handpicked soldiers that actively work to prepare those deploying.
“We work hard to make sure that the unit is the best trained and the best equipped they can possibly be before they leave for deployment,” said Wright, a resident of Readfield. “We make sure that the units have all of the proper equipment, and training as well as providing administrative and sustainment support throughout the process.”
The White Cell will arrive ahead of the troops to make sure things are in order, and that the unit has an operations and support staff there to support them as they go through the required trainings.
“There are many tasks, especially on the logistics/maintenance side that take precious time and some of those coordinating tasks can be done by us, the white cell, to alleviate some of the workload on the soldiers. We troubleshoot issues, we run errands, we don’t have a set list of tasks.”
Wright said her job is not an easy one, and it is tough to see Maine soldiers preparing to deploy, especially when they are soldiers she has known for years.
“However, I am so proud to be part of the team that helps make things go smoother when they are on their way out the door,” she said. “I have a fantastic job, thanks to our units, they are the reason I am employed. Being away from home, the kitties, and my husband is difficult, but nowhere near as difficult as what lies ahead for our deploying units. After 10 years of being involved, in some degree, it does not get easier, and every deployment is different."
Doody agrees. He said that at the end of the day, the long hours, days, and travels are worth it.
”Knowing our soldiers arrive being the best prepared of any soldiers in the Army National Guard and returning home knowing we did everything within our power to ensure their success, makes it worthwhile.”