144th Area Support Medical Company

Deploys to Afghanistan

 

By Ileen Kennedy

 

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Published May 11, 2010

 

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Sergeant Travis Huber, switches to a new unit patch during the 144th Area Support Medical Company's federalization ceremony March 17.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Sergeant Travis Huber, switches to a new unit patch during the 144th Area Support Medical Company's federalization ceremony March 17.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah National Guard’s 144th Area Support Medical Company deployed approximately 80 Soldiers March 20 for a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Their mission will be to treat patients in a hospital/clinic setting and provide medevac and ambulance support in a combat environment.

"We set the clinics up for Soldiers to be treated for day-to-day things," said CPT David Stefl, 144th ASMC commander. "Most of the time it’s sick call things: runny noses, back pain, playing basketball and they sprain their ankle on the base, but two percent of the time is going to be trauma-related stuff where we will be taking care of Soldiers from the front lines who are injured in battle."

About 10 percent of the unit, including Stefl, last deployed in 2005-2006, serving in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Private Ashley Sweet gears up to get on the plane en route to Afghanistan via Fort Lewis, Wash., March 20.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Private Ashley Sweet gears up to get on the plane

en route to Afghanistan via Fort Lewis, Wash., March 20.

One of the missions of the 144th ASMC will be to provide medical aid to Servicemembers stationed in remote forward-operating bases. Soldiers with the 144th understand the great role their mission will play in saving lives and bringing other Soldiers home to their families.

"Our mission over there is to set up medical operations and take care of the Warriors on the front lines and get them back to their families," said SGT Marty Grant, a West Jordan resident and team leader with the 144th, who is on his first deployment.

"I’m going to save lives of Soldiers and that’s important," said SPC Chelsea Jones, a medic with the 144th, who leaves behind her full-time studies in Provo to serve. "I really felt like this was an important thing to do to serve our country and to give back for everything that we have."

A child inspects her father's pack as he stands in formation at the departure ceremony of the 144th ASMC March 20.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

A child inspects her father's pack as he stands in formation

at the departure ceremony of the 144th ASMC March 20.

Medical care is a critical function in wartime operations, and the 144th will not only serve U.S. and Coalition forces, but will also treat DoD civilians and contractors and in some cases, local nationals.

"I think the overall importance of this mission, as well as the whole mission in Afghanistan, is to win the hearts and minds of the people," said SSG Tyler Hill, of Springville, a noncommissioned officer who will be in charge of evacuations at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, for the 144th. "We have such a huge task at hand and medical is one of the largest ways to do that. The people over there have very limited access to medical care, and for us to be able to go in and provide medical care not only to our own people but to the local nationals there as well, I think it really shows them that we care."

The 144th consists of Soldiers with specialties that include physicians, physician assistants, dentists, combat medics, X-ray and lab technicians, administration, communications, supply and logistics. Many of these professionals are leaving behind very young family members.

Specialist Steven Cope unfurls the colors of the 144th at the departure ceremony in the Utah Air National Guard Base hangar in Salt Lake City.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Specialist Steven Cope unfurls the colors of the 144th at the departure ceremony in the Utah Air National Guard Base hangar in Salt Lake City.

Grant, who will be married three years this July, leaves his wife and 10-week-old baby.

"I’m a little jittery," said Grant. "It’s kind of a fear-of-the-unknown thing for me. But I have some good NCOs and leaders who have been deployed before, and they know what they are doing. I have full trust and confidence in them that they will steer me down the right path, so I can steer my Soldiers down the right path. It was important to me to be able to go and do what I’ve been trained to do. It’s like someone training for football but never gets to play in the big game. That’s why I really wanted to go."

The fear of the unknown also extends to Grant’s feeling of leaving behind his wife and new daughter. Having a support system for them in place helps families cope with the trials that can arise during deployment.

Local Girl Scouts show their support of departing Soldiers of the 144th Area Support Medical Company as the unit departs for deployment.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Local Girl Scouts show their support of departing Soldiers of the 144th Area Support Medical Company as the unit departs for deployment.

"We have a really good support chain," continued Grant. "[My wife] can go to my family or her family and she goes to both. They take care of her while I am gone, and that puts my mind at ease because that’s the top of my worries right now."

The Guard also has a support system in place where family members can turn to with Family Assistance coordinator Cassie Leavitt, whose husband SSG Jeff Leavitt, on his second deployment, left three days earlier with the 144th ASMCs advance party.

"I support him in everything he does," said Cassie. "That’s why I’m part of the FRG (Family Readiness Group). I’m concerned about him and I know how the families feel, and whatever I can do to help with the unit helps me to feel better to serve other people. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to see people who are willing to give up so much for other people even when some people don’t think it’s worth it."

Assistant Adjutant General BG Jefferson Burton, right, shakes hands with PFC Kami Erickson, left, as she prepares to board the plane for Fort Lewis, Wash.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

Assistant Adjutant General BG Jefferson Burton, right, shakes hands with PFC Kami Erickson, left, as she prepares to board the plane for Fort Lewis, Wash.

On this emotional day, many Soldiers expressed how important their family’s support is in helping them concentrate on their mission and ability to serve. A brief program with encouraging words from senior leadership was held in the hangar prior to departure where families and employers were thanked for their support of their Servicemembers.

"To all of you who support those who go, we want to say from the bottom of our hearts, ‘Thank you,’" said BG Jeff Burton, assistant adjutant general of the Utah National Guard. "We know the feeling of separation. We know the feeling that you feel of loss and the concern that you have for those people that you love. We want you to know that they have great leadership, and they are prepared to perform this mission. They will go and do the same thing that Utah units have done for the last decade, and that is to perform brilliantly and to get home safely."

A proud round of applause was given when COL Edward Gundersen, commander of 97th Troop Command, repeated words often heard from adjutant general MG Brian Tarbet: "The A team is taking the field when Utah arrives."

A 144th ASMC Soldier gives a final goodbye wave to his loved ones before boarding the Southwest Airlines charter bound for Fort Lewis.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

A 144th ASMC Soldier gives a final goodbye wave to his loved ones before boarding the Southwest Airlines charter bound for Fort Lewis.

A medic with the 144th ASMC and Highland resident SGT Von Villamil explained the importance of their mission: "We’re out there to help the rest of the Soldiers. They are out there to fight, so we are just going to take care of each other. That’s what we do."

Taking care of each other is something communities in Utah are known for. Boy Scout Erick Goodell from Troop 1503 in Spanish Fork planned his Eagle Scout project to show Soldiers of the 144th ASMC that he and his Scouts were grateful for their service. They prepared send-off packets full of word-search or crossword puzzles, pencils, toothbrushes, tooth paste, soap, hand sanitizer, trail bars and a handwritten letter thanking Soldiers for their service. The troop came to the deployment ceremony and personally handed out the packets and thanked the Soldiers for their service.

"We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give," said Stefl, quoting Winston Churchill, to Soldiers and families during the ceremony. "We are all giving today, and I appreciate your service."