The 3rd Infantry Division’s command team, along with the division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, deployed to Afghanistan Saturday through Tuesday, according to 3rd ID public affairs officer Lt. Col. Benjamin Garrett.
Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, commander of the 3rd ID and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, 3rd ID Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson, along with Brig. Gen. Christopher Hughes, deputy commanding general-maneuver, and Col. Robert White, deputy commanding general-support, led the Marne Division headquarters to Afghanistan, where Abrams will command Joint Regional Command-South.
Prior to loading soldiers, their weapons and equipment on buses to take them to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, family members had one last opportunity to say goodbye at Fort Stewart’s Newman Fitness Center. Some family members, though most waited until the final moment of separation.
“This is my third deployment,” said Sgt. Keith Walsh as he played with one of his twin sons, 1-year-old Kaleb, while Kamren watched from a double-seat stroller. “This is my first deployment to Afghanistan.”
The system information specialist said he was trying to enjoy a few more moments with his sons and his wife Kayla before boarding the bus to Hunter. Walsh said he returned from Iraq two years ago with former 3rd ID commander, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo.
“I’m not that worried,” admitted Kayla, though sighing just a little. “I’m staying here while he’s deployed because I have a good little circle of friends here. This is my third deployment, too, you know.”
Samantha Lipsey said she was going back home to the mountains of northeast Tennessee for the next 12 months while her husband, Sgt. Brent Lipsey, is deployed.
“I’ll stay with my daddy while Brent’s gone,” she said. “He’ll get to come home on leave in six months. And yeah, I’m worried. But it’s something you have to deal with. It’s what he signed up to be, and you’ve got to support him.”
A cavalry scout with nearly nine years in the Army, Lipsey said this is his second deployment to Afghanistan. He previously served with the 101st Airborne Division, returning in 2008 to a reassignment with the 3rd ID.
With an M4 assault rifle strapped over his chest and his right hand resting on an M9 pistol in its holster, Lipsey said he was part of the commanding general’s personal security detail.
“We’re very well-trained,” he said with a grin. “There’s no one better to have for personal security than a bunch of scouts.”
California native and military policeman Spc. Dash Cheatham made a couple trips back to the bleachers where his parents, Roger and Silvia Cheatham, waited along with Cheatham’s uncle and aunt, Bob and Karen Bloodsworth.
His dad, a Navy veteran, proudly wore a Vietnam veterans baseball cap, while his uncle said he was retired from the Air Force. Another uncle, Randy Cheatham, who wasn’t able to attend the send-off, is a Marine Corps veteran.
“I joined the Army my senior year in high school,” said the 6-foot-5, 270-pound soldier whose mother referred to him as her baby. “I wanted to do something in law enforcement, but I didn’t want to wait until I was 21. I’d like to make the Army a career then start another career as a civilian in law enforcement.”
As departure time neared, Chaplain Capt. Lyndon Jong led several couples through a “Coin & Covenant” ceremony. Each spouse took time to complete a commitment form, pledging their loyalty and fidelity during the other’s absence.
Each spouse wore half of a coin that had been split in two. One side of the jagged, half coin is half the 3rd ID patch; the other side is half a heart.
Chaplain Lt. Col. Greg Walker, who will serve as chaplain for Regional Command-South, talked about the coin and covenant ceremony and the affect repeated deployments have on military couples.
The 20-year Army veteran, who has been married 25 years, admitted that deployments are tough on families. But he said deployments alone are not the chief factor contributing to failed marriages or even increased suicide rates.
“I think a lot of it is just a part of our society right now,” he reflected. “Some marriages are going to fail, no matter what, and some people are going to take the easy way out. If it hurts, some people will do whatever they think will make it stop.”
He said many people in society today lack both coping skills and faith to work through a personal crisis. That’s why chaplains are there, he said — to help soldiers work through spiritual and personal problems during a deployment.