Rear detachment leaders faced with unenviable job

Soldiers and officers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Baumholder spent a week in the classroom learning about the situations they will encounter as rear detachment leaders during the brigade's upcoming deployment to Iraq.


By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 27, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — It’s not the job Staff Sgt. Wayne Drew envisioned for himself.

After all, with three tours in Iraq already under his belt, Drew had recently been selected to serve as a Bradley gunner for Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry during its next deployment. Then new orders arrived.

Instead of deploying to Iraq in early 2008 with the rest of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Drew will stay in Baumholder as a rear detachment leader for his unit. Instead of manning the gun he will be knee deep in paperwork, administrative issues and family matters.

“This is definitely a whole different beast,” Drew said of his new job.

About 40 Baumholder soldiers and officers of the 2nd BCT completed the Army’s Rear Detachment Commanders Course last week. Among those who participated, only one volunteered for a job in “Rear D.”

But for Col. Robert P. White, 2nd BCT commander, maintaining order at home during deployments is crucial to the war effort. To achieve that order, it requires leaving home the very people commanders would like to have with them in Iraq, White said.

“What I need in Rear D is someone with deployment experience. Someone who knows what information to transmit back to families and make sure they’re taken care of,” White said. “I know many of them want to be with their units. But I have them there for a reason.”

If rear detachment jobs are filled by weak links, then things are complicated both at home and in Iraq, White says.

Nonetheless, some soldiers say they have mixed feelings about their new assignments.

“There’s a conception that we aren’t doing anything,” said Sgt. James Guy of HHC 1-6. But those frustrations wash away when you can solve an issue for family, he said.

Still, the job requires a sensitivity that doesn’t always come naturally to many soldiers.

“One of the hardest things I’ve noticed for soldiers is working with spouses on a daily basis. You can’t tell them (spouses) to suck it up and drive on,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan Gillette, who for three years has served as Rear Detachment Commanders Course instructor.

During the weeklong seminar in Baumholder, the soldiers learned the ins and outs of various Army policies and worked through scenarios they could encounter after the brigade deploys.

“These guys are going to be in command. It’s a lot of responsibility,” Gillette said.

During one classroom exercise, soldiers worked to resolve a family crisis involving nonsupport.

The scenario: A soldier returns to Baumholder for two weeks of R&R and discovers his wife was cheating. He decides he wants a divorce, sends her home without Early Return of Dependents approval and then returns to Iraq.

The wife, after three months without any financial support for herself and their three children, files a complaint with the Inspector General.

“What do you do?” inquires Sgt. Maj. Al Johnson of U.S. Army Europe/7A Inspector General Office and the classroom facilitator.

One respondent concluded that the main task was to protect the soldier from excessive financial hardship. “We’re looking out for the soldier because the wife’s been cheating,” the soldier said.

Another soldier said the first thing was to ensure that support started getting to the family.

After discussing various policies and procedures for dealing with nonsupport situations, Johnson simplified his question.

“Do you order him to pay?” Johnson asked.

“Do you order him to pay? You can’t make him,” answered one soldier.

Wrong answer, Johnson said. “Yes, you order him to pay.”

Drew said the seminar has helped prepare him for the upcoming deployment. But the feelings about the new job remain mixed.

“It’s a thankless job and it’s also rewarding,” he said. “Fifty percent of me wants to be with the unit. Fifty percent of me wants to be here.”