By Army Staff Sgt. Les Newport
76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
With a little more than two months left in a yearlong deployment, the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is beginning to turn attention to missions beyond the convoy security, force protection and garrison command missions of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Gun crews of Indiana National Guard BCT have logged more than four million miles on more than 3,000 missions while in theater. While looking forward to returning to Indiana, commanders are also assessing the readiness of their units.
Capt. Gary Deckard, commander of C Company, 1-151st Infantry, sees the challenge in terms of sustaining his unit rather than rebuilding as C Company prepares to transition to the traditional role of homeland security in Indianapolis where C Co. is armored.
After nearly 18 months of pre-mobilization training and deployment Deckard doesn't mince words about C Co.'s ability to handle potential homeland security assignments: "No problem... any mission," said Deckard. "After all that we've gone through, I feel confident we could do anything."
Deckard is not alone in his assessment. 76th Brigade executive officer Lt. Col. Sarver is responsible for tracking the daily missions of brigade convoy security teams throughout theater.
"I'm very pleased with the way the units are performing their combat missions," said Lt. Col. Scott Sarver, executive officer, 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. "The company level leadership has built very professional teams which have been able to adapt and overcome everything the enemy can throw at them."
"This ability to build teamwork and adapt to changing environments will serve us well upon redeployment as we look toward to new challenges. Every Soldier has become a leader," Sarver added.
Deckard agrees, saying that he has watched his company transform in the last year into a highly disciplined team that meet or exceed Army standards, and just as importantly, understand why they need to achieve and maintain that level of readiness.
"I had Soldiers who were, honestly, marginal performers," said Deckard, adding that he believes that had more to do with not understanding the goal as compared to the unwillingness to put in the effort.
"Now, some of those Soldiers have become some of the best performers I have. They've become leaders, and they're the future of this company," said Deckard.
Deckard credits his non-commissioned officers with that transformation, most who have previous deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan or both. He also says much of C Co.'s future depends on their commitment to sustaining readiness post deployment.
"When they're out there on the road, I have to trust in their judgment," said Deckard. "They police themselves, (to) make sure they're doing the right thing. It's easy to be a buddy, but it takes more to do the right thing."
1st Sgt. Steven Dejong says the key to unit readiness is the individual Soldier.
"You have to focus on the whole Soldier," said Dejong, "taking care of Soldiers and families."
Dejong said the challenges of deployment reveal shortcomings, but that any weakness is an issue that Co. C can address together.
"It's a 24/7 process, day in and day out, Soldier development and counseling, opening the door for Soldiers to grow," said Dejong.
One area the leadership of C Co. has given special emphasis is education, a challenging prospect even when a unit is not deployed to a combat zone. Dejong says more than 20 Soldiers of C Co. have taken advantage of online courses, pursing higher education goals.
He said that many in the unit have expressed an interest in developing through military education opportunities, specifically the Army's medic occupational specialty training program. Dejong, a South Chicago firefighter and paramedic says the training program is roughly equal to civilian intermediate volunteer to full-time training programs.
"There's a ton of interest in [the medical military occupation specialty], and we can make it happen," said Dejong.
Recognizing the benefit to his unit, the Soldiers and even the communities to where his Soldiers will return, Dejong is supporting the effort. And he points to it as yet another example of the teamwork that has become a hallmark of the unit's deployment.
Dejong also believes the focus on development through educational opportunities during deployment, both military and civilian, will carry over and increase the probability of Soldiers leveraging expanded educational benefits of the G.I. Bill.
"It's part of retention, gaining a career path that brings that knowledge back to the fight," said Dejong.
Deckard and Dejong both admit they have a company full of Soldiers that are outstanding examples of the progress the unit has made in the last two years, but both also say that there is a particular Soldier who embodies the spirit of C Co. A quick check with fellow Soldiers confirms that the leadership is not alone in their assessment.
Spc. Matthew Bumphus is a soft-spoken, earnest and sincere young man with a direct and plain spoken belief: "I don't think I really knew what it meant to be a Soldier until I joined C Company."
The Indianapolis native joined the Indiana National Guard for the experience, but admits that assignment to an infantry line company headed for a combat zone caused him concern.
"(My leaders) told me 'This will be good for you.' I couldn't see how going to Iraq would be good for me, but here I am," said Bumphus.
Now, Bumphus says he understands what they were telling him.
"This deployment has changed my life, I wouldn't take the experience back for anything," he says.
Reluctant to talk about himself, Bumphus takes every opportunity to steer conversation back to a favorite subject, his fellow Soldiers.
"These are people that actually care and are sincere in the things that they do," he said. "Somebody can tell right off the bat when something is wrong. They'll come and talk to you about it ... say 'I've been there too'".
Dejong says that the whole unit has come to rely on Bumphus as a "go to guy" who works in the unit's operation center and serves as a filler for convoy security missions.
Bumphus credits any success he may have to C Co.
"I'm comfortable. I trust them; we have a shared mentality. If you're mentally ready then you can say 'I'm able to do the job, to get the job done."
In a final analysis Bumphus says the experience of deployment has taught him about perceptions, reality and shared values.
"For me it's been a time for soul-searching. I've learned a lot about other people as well as myself," said Bumphus.
"Soldier development," says Dejong.