News: Eight Spartans carry the stories of all four deployments
Story by Spc. Osama Ayyad
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Throughout its history, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) has maintained 3,000 to 4,000 Soldiers. Typically, Soldiers receive assignments to multiple duty stations throughout their careers. Only a few have an opportunity to remain in the same duty station, let alone the same unit for more than a few years. Only eight Soldiers have had the distinction of participating in all four Spartan Brigade deployments to Afghanistan.
Unit commanders and their enlisted advisers fulfill their obligations at the company, battalion and brigade levels during their careers, which makes it uncommon for an officer or a senior enlisted adviser to stay in the same unit for more than a few years.
Noncommissioned officers train Soldiers to be competent to prepare them for what they might face in a deployment environment. The eight Soldiers who participated in all four of the brigade’s deployments to Afghanistan have all grown to become noncommissioned officers. Some of those NCOs reflected on their experiences.
In May 2004, soon after a deployment to Afghanistan with another brigade, Sgt. 1st Class Aaron L. Jongeneel became a member of 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment. Then a young sergeant, Jongeneel was among the few NCOs in his platoon.
“At first, it was upsetting,” Jongeneel said. “I was one of three Soldiers to transfer from my previous unit. I didn’t know any of the other Soldiers. After some time, the unit received more troops, and my platoon sergeant and I recognized the opportunity to build a unit from scratch.”
Four months after becoming a part of the Spartan Brigade, Jongeneel was the first Soldier in his squadron to participate in the unit’s staff sergeant promotion board. Soon after that, Jongeneel became a staff sergeant, which put him a supervisory role.
The most challenging time for Jongeneel in the Spartan Brigade was during the brigade’s first deployment in the winter of 2006. It was his second deployment, the first as a Spartan.
In combat, NCOs must remain steadfast to maintain esprit de corps, especially during the loss of comrades.
Those deaths hit Jongeneel hard, especially the loss of Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti, also a member of 3-71 Cavalry, whose family later received the Medal of Honor on his behalf.
“Losing so many Soldiers had a huge effect on the morale of the troops,” Jongeneel said. “Sgt. 1st Class Monti’s death affected the entire squadron. As a leader, you had to maintain focus on the mission at hand. As a noncommissioned officer, I understood that the morale of my troops affected them in battle, and I had to remain positive to keep them alive. In return, my Soldiers’ resilience made me resilient. They kept me going.”
Soldiers face many challenges and overcome many obstacles throughout their careers.
As leaders of junior enlisted Soldiers, NCOs have the duty and obligation to maintain the welfare of their Soldiers. Sgt 1st. Class Keith A. Rondo, a member of 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, described an experience he had fulfilling that duty.
Sgt. Justin Griffin was one of Rondo’s Soldiers during the brigade’s second deployment. Rondo’s experience with Griffin is one that they will always share.
“While assaulting a building, Sgt. Griffin was shot in the shoulder,” Rondo recalled. “As a leader and a noncommissioned officer, I decided to spend the two weeks of (mid-tour leave) that I had with him at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center). That is what we do. It’s part of the job.”
During his most recent visit to Fort Drum, Griffin attended the final 3rd BSTB Ball, where he addressed the battalion in a speech. The highlight of his address was his experience with Rondo.
“It was very nice of him to spend his leave with me,” Griffin said. “He wheeled me through the halls to get food and look out the windows on a wheelchair. We had a great time. He definitely made a difference.”
Making a difference is a good way to see an obstacle as an opportunity. One of the obstacles Rondo faced was transition. The inactivation marks a transition for all Spartan Soldiers, especially the few who have been on all four Spartan deployments.
“The inactivation was upsetting,” Rondo said. “I have been in the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion my entire career, but everyone has to do new things. I wonder where I’ll go from here.”
According to Rondo, Spartan Soldiers will fare well wherever they go.
“Many Soldiers will miss the brigade, but it’s a good thing that all of these quality Soldiers will share the Spartan legacy wherever they go in their careers,” he said.
In their careers, Soldiers are promoted and given more responsibility. The more experience they have, the better they can help Soldiers.
The transition to an administrative position was a challenge for Sgt. 1st Class Adam P. Kapchus, a member of 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment. Like most NCOs, Kapchus spent the majority of his early career with his troops, training and then leading them into combat. Being able to have hands-on management of the Soldiers he trained gave him a sense of pride and camaraderie.
“The last deployment was toughest for me,” Kapchus said. “I was a battle captain, which meant I stayed in the tactical operations center and attended to communications for the entire Logar province. It was tough because I wasn’t with the guys. I was there for them, but not with them, and that was a challenge for me.”
Another one of the Soldiers who participated on every Spartan deployment is Staff Sgt. Michael A. Conzo, 3rd BSTB, and his challenge after the inactivation will be transition as well.
“I have never been a part of an engineering battalion, and I will be a part of the 41st Engineers Battalion,” Conzo said. “That will be a challenge, but we all have to move on to bigger and better things.”
As the Spartans move to their next chapter, they all take with them the Spartan legacy. That is especially true of the Soldiers who experienced every Spartan deployment: Sgt. 1st Class David W. Fisher, Sgt. 1st Class Aaron L. Jongeneel, Sgt. 1st Class Adam P. Kapchus, Sgt. 1st Class Keith A. Rondo, Staff Sgt. Michael A. Conzo, Staff Sgt. Frank Iannacone, Staff Sgt. Keith M. Quinlan and Sgt. Ueilan P. Tonumaipea.