Soldiers, families face harsh reality of deployments

Pvt. Johnny Hudspeth
21st Theater Support Command

The corridor in the basement of the Spinnelli Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, is lined with Soldiers and their families. Weapons are being issued to members of the 512th Maintenance Company, 51st Maintenance Battalion, 29th Support Group, 21st Theater Support Command. Within hours, the 512th will fly through dark skies to set up shop in Iraq. Wives, husbands and children cling to each other for what may be their last embrace for possibly a year.
1st Lt. Douglas Washington II was one of the almost 200 Soldiers sharing a few last moments with family members in Spinelli Barracks basement Jan.7.
Lieutenant Washington is one of roughly 1,000 21st TSC Soldiers who start deploying to support Operations Iraqi Freedom this month.
Though his deployment was imminent, he and his family carried on as if it were business as usual.
Lieutenant Washington laughed and smiled as he held his son, Devon, 2, in his arms. Meanwhile his son playfully pulled on his daddy’s ears, as Washington’s wife, 1st Lt. Michelle Washington, played with one-year-old Santana.
“It saddens me to be leaving my family, but there is also an excitement to go and complete the mission,” said Lieutenant Washington, maintenance control officer for the 512th. “The unit has been training for a year. We’ve met and maintained the standard set forth by command and we are well prepared for the upcoming task.”
“With us both being in the military, we know there are going to be times, we must be apart,” said Michelle Washington, who works in the 2/502nd Aviation Battalion Security Office. “We’re familiar with the Army and how it works. The mission has to be completed.”
The Washingtons understand deployments are family business.
“We’ve taken care of all the necessary arrangements, legal, financial and personal. I’m as confident in my family’s readiness for this deployment as I am in my unit’s,” Lieutenant Washington said.
He knows there will be tough moments to come though.
“I worry my kids don’t really understand Daddy is going to be gone for a while,” said Lieutenant Washington. “My wife and I will be celebrating our third wedding anniversary in March. We’ll be away from each other, but Soldiers down range need relief and support. The country needs Soldiers to be successful in the jobs we have.”
Lt. Col. Cynthia Fox, commander of the 51st Maintenance Battalion, said every possible effort will be made to keep the links of communication open to help Soldiers with the pain of being away from loved ones.
“I understand there will be Army AKO (e-mail) account access down range,” said Lieutenant Washington. “That’s nice to have the capability to get in touch with my family as often as possible.”
Though his son might not be able to pull his Daddy’s ears over e-mail, the lieutenant is clear that the sacrifice is worthwhile.
“While I realize there will be tough moments, it’s going to be hot, maybe boring, I’m away from my family; taking care of Soldiers is first and foremost to the success of the mission and that’s satisfying to me,” he said. “We’re going to make this mission a success.”