Support our mission
 
At a large town hall meeting this week in Wiesbaden, Germany, 1st Armored Division commander Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, left, summarized details of the divisional headquarters staff’s upcoming deployment to northern Iraq. Hertling highlighted support initiatives on the homefront, and said spouses and soldiers alike face “a tough 15 months.”
At a large town hall meeting this week in Wiesbaden, Germany, 1st Armored Division commander Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, left, summarized details of the divisional headquarters staff’s upcoming deployment to northern Iraq. Hertling highlighted support initiatives on the homefront, and said spouses and soldiers alike face “a tough 15 months.” (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

European edition, Saturday, August 18, 2007

WIESBADEN, Germany — The harsh and haunting landscape of northern Iraq seemed at times worlds away, what with the jazz music, raffle prizes and a screaming Polynesian wannabe in a grass skirt.

Four years ago, in Wiesbaden, a small but similar pre-deployment gathering featured a balloon-twisting clown on a unicycle. Through trial and error, the U.S. Army has learned over these many combat tours to keep such community gatherings light, moving and informative, though usually not in that order.

When more than 1,000 soldiers and family members of the 1st Armored Division attended an hourlong briefing Wednesday, much of the focus was on acquainting people with various Wiesbaden support agencies. Given the time — an early evening in August — the goal was more about providing direction than resolution.

So this wasn’t the time for soldiers to review their wills, check their shot records and grab their gear. That day will come soon enough. Nor was it time for spouses to sit down with a financial counselor or their family readiness group. A public plug and phone numbers were sufficient.

Instead, it was a chance for Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling to lay out — especially for family members — what the headquarters staff will be doing during its 15-month tour in northern Iraq. He didn’t mince words.

In 2003-2004, when the headquarters last deployed to Iraq, 122 1st AD soldiers died in combat. This time, there won’t be nearly as many 1st AD soldiers directly under the headquarters’ command, but that wasn’t the point.

War brings death.

“It’s tough,” Hertling said as he circulated below a stage adorned with a huge American flag and flanked by a pair of large-screen TVs. “It happens. We are in combat.”

He even mentioned two of the most common challenges facing returning soldiers: post-traumatic stress disorder and head trauma. He particularly wanted spouses new to all of this war stuff to be informed. Iraq can be a very violent and noisy place, and bodies take a beating, even if there are no exterior scratches.

“It’s going to be OK,” Hertling said. “We’re going to take care of your soldier.”

After the briefing ended, it was Hertling’s candor — not the raffle or Staff Sgt. Leonard Robbins’ best headhunter imitation — that had people talking.

“He was very honest,” said one female soldier. “He was very candid, very straightforward. It humanized things.”

It also drove home the point that the deployment is fast approaching.

The 1st AD headquarters staff is expecting to start deploying in a month. That means they’ll miss two Christmases, a presidential election, birthdays, anniversaries and countless moments, happy or sad.

Though he is single, Pfc. Sheb Angulo of the 146th Signal Company said he found the briefing informative. He also found it upsetting, knowing a lot of his fellow soldiers are already beginning to miss their families.

“I hear it a lot,” Angulo said as he stood outside the new gymnasium on Wiesbaden Army Airfield. “I can see my colleagues preparing themselves for a long separation.”

Back in the main gym, where the meeting was wrapping up, the jazz group was playing a little ditty and the last of the raffle prizes were being given away. The bright new gym and its rows of colorful state flags hanging from the rafters made for a rather cheery appearance.

Only minutes before, a legal beagle, a doctor and a finance guy were ripping through their talking points and contact information. There was useful information, serious talk and levity. Even the dentist, Lt. Col. Troy Marburger, was a hit.

“I’m the last speaker,” he said, triggering a chorus of good-natured cheers.

Hertling and his staff wanted to keep the meeting fast and relevant. The hope is that the tour will follow suit.

Migrated

stars and stripes videos


around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up