News: Missouri Guardsman serves in Afghanistan with son
Story by Sgt. Antony Lee
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – When Staff Sgt. Denise Leo, a Missouri National Guardsman, arrived at work for her unit’s monthly drill in September 2012, she learned of an opportunity to serve in Afghanistan.
The 1438th Multi-Role Bridge Company of Macon, Mo., was scheduled to deploy to southern Afghanistan and was looking for volunteers. Leo was interested.
“I enjoyed my last deployment and I hadn’t been to Afghanistan, so I decided to give it a shot,” said Leo, who first served overseas in Iraq in 2009-2010 with the 1138th Military Police Company.
She didn’t stop at volunteering herself, however: She also encouraged her son, Spc. Ryan Dryer, also a Missouri Guardsman, to volunteer for the deployment.
“It’s important to serve our country and pass that on to future generations,” she said.
Both Leo and Dryer were previously set to serve on separate deployments, but after both were canceled, the opportunity for mother and son to deploy together presented itself.
“She said, ‘Why don’t you try to get on this deployment?’” Dryer said. “So I agreed to it.”
By February 2013, both had transferred into the 1438th MRBC and were drilling with the unit as they prepared to deploy to Afghanistan.
One year later, both are six months into their journey at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, supporting their unit’s mission of maintaining bridges in the country. Leo is an administrative noncommissioned officer and Dryer is a mechanic working at the unit’s motor pool.
Mother and son both agree that having each other around on the deployment has been a valuable experience.
“Having family here is like having a piece of home here with you,” Leo, an Ava, Mo., native said. “I can just go and hang out with him and he understands me. It’s nice to have someone who understands you without having to say anything.”
Dryer said his mother has helped him out on numerous occasions during the deployment, including when his third child was born and he went home for emergency leave.
“She’s helped out a lot,” Dryer said. “She’s somebody to talk to. From a soldier’s perspective, she takes care of the soldiers who need her beyond her (personnel) duties, and she is very proficient at her job.”
Denise Leo’s husband, Spc. Tony Leo – yet another Missouri Guardsman – is also scheduled to join them later this year in southern Afghanistan.
Leo’s first stint within the military began long before she was in the Missouri National Guard. She was a U.S. Marine from 1984 to 1988. “Our country was at peace then,” she said.
She later became a high school counselor, a job that inevitably led her back to the military.
“When I was a high school counselor, the recruiters would come in to talk to the students, and I hadn’t deployed,” she said. “I wanted to deploy and serve my country.”
After a nearly 20-year break in service, Leo decided to give it another shot. So she raised her right hand once again, in December 2006, and enlisted into the military – this time into the Missouri Army National Guard – at 42 years old.
“Once this uniform gets in your blood, you can’t get it out,” she said.
She said that although the deployment has been rough at times, she has been enjoying her time in Afghanistan. Leo and one other soldier does administrative work on behalf of more than one hundred soldiers with the 1438th as they are counted on to maintain Afghan bridges. A team within the 1438th has even worked with and trained engineers from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Works.
“I enjoy my job,” Leo said. “It has been very busy, very stressful. But I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve learned a lot.”