VICENZA, Italy — When the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) begins to deploy for a yearlong mission to Afghanistan later this month, it won’t be leaving a lot of soldiers behind.

But what the rear detachment’s lacking in numbers could be offset by a different figure: 51.

That’s the combined number of years the top two officers in the detachment have in the military. Maj. Gen. David Zabecki and Navy Cmdr. Ken O’Brien will also bring a little different perspective to the job.

“I feel, whether I’m a Navy guy or an Army guy, very comfortable in this position,” said O’Brien, who will serve as the detachment’s executive officer. “I’ve been serving 22 years, I’ve seen a lot of deployments and I have a lot of ties to this community.”

But a Navy guy in Vicenza?

O’Brien points out with a smile that there are actually a handful of active-duty Navy personnel at Caserma Ederle. He’s on base as the liaison officer to SETAF from the 6th Fleet. He has had several additional roles since coming to the base more than two years ago. Most recently, he has been SETAF’s deputy operations officer.

“You can’t just be an LNO anymore,” he said. “With the way the military is structured these days, you have to be an integrated part of the staff.”

Zabecki, who was not available for comment, is the deputy chief of staff for mobilization and reserve affairs for the Installation Management Agency-Europe. He has almost three decades of serving in the Army Reserve and National Guard. Most recently, he has headed Army participation in 60th anniversary commemorations of World War II events across Europe.

A military historian, he has spent much of the past two decades in a variety of roles in Germany.

O’Brien said he initially thought he’d deploy to Afghanistan as well. But when that didn’t happen, he became a logical choice to help lead the rear detachment.

He and wife Deborah, a former Navy nurse, have two children attending school on base. They’re just following in the footsteps of their dad, who attended Vicenza schools in the 1970s when his father was a sergeant major in the Army.

O’Brien promises to run a proactive organization.

“I can answer the same question from a spouse every week,” he said. “Or, I can realize pretty quickly that we have not gotten out the required information. I don’t want to be chasing my tail the whole time.”

He has already started making regular appearances on the local AFN radio station. A toll-free, international phone number and a Web site will be available for those outside Vicenza to get help. And O’Brien said the rear detachment will be just one of several organizations playing a support role on base.

Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the SETAF commander, and Gen. B.B. Bell, the U.S. Army Europe commander, have made supporting families of deployed soldiers a high priority, O’Brien said. And that should make his job easier.

“I think in the Navy we’ve been used to long deployments on ships,” he said. “The Army has had to face the same thing more recently. I have never, in my 22 years, seen an organization that has been put together to support a community like this one has.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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