HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan - I've had many unique experiences during my three deployments. As a public affairs noncommissioned officer, I've written about Soldiers who have served with their family members downrange, but I never imagined that I would ever be serving in a combat zone with one of my children.
From left, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot and his son U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Andrew Pouliot, a landing specialist assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 6, enjoy some time together at Forward Operating Base Shukvanni in Helmand Province, Afghanistan on August 26, 2013. Lance Cpl. Pouliot manages passenger movement in and out of the base. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
The horrific events which led to Operation Enduring Freedom unfolded before my son's eyes one morning 13 years ago when he was a fourth grader preparing for school and a phone call prompted his mother to turn on the TV. The two of them saw the first World Trade Center Tower in flames and soon after, a second airliner slamming into the second tower. From then on he said he remembers constantly being interested in the news and what was happening in Afghanistan.
In 2005, when I decided to reenter the Army, my son Andrew took a keen interest in the history of the units and bases I would be assigned to. I didn't realize it when he was growing up but he told me recently he had wanted to join the military for many years. He said he was drawn to the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 17 when a Marine recruiter called him and invited him to visit his office. Andrew said he was captivated by the notion of earning the mythical status of becoming a U.S. Marine and he decided to enlist because of the values and honor of being a Marine, and because no one else in the family had done it.
It was then when I probably should have considered the possibility of both of us being deployed to Afghanistan. Soon after high school graduation, Andrew left for boot camp June 21, 2010, exactly 22 years to the day I shipped out to U.S. Army Basic Training. Throughout boot camp he would listen to his drill instructors talk about their experiences in combat in places such as Fallujah and Ramadi during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Hearing about their experiences made Andrew want to deploy and experience the military operations he had been hearing about most of his life.
“I wanted to do something for my country, something that would set me apart from everyone else,” he said in an email.
Upon completion of his military occupational specialty training to become a landing support specialist, he was assigned to a Marine Reserve unit in San Jose, Calif., where there were no deployments on the horizon. When volunteers were sought to augment active duty units, Andrew would let it be known that he was ready and willing to deploy, but he was repeatedly denied. Finally, a spot for him became available in 2012 and he would deploy with Combat Logistics Battalion 6 from Camp Lejune, N.C.
Before I visited him at his base in August, my son and I had not seen each other since Christmas 2012. Soon after, he left for Camp Lejune to prepare for his scheduled deployment. I deployed to Bagram Airfield in May and a couple months later Andrew deployed to Helmand Province. I remember once he arrived in theater, sharing notes with him on our new common experiences; the transient tents, the chow halls, the passenger terminals. After a day of regular email messages, I became quite worried when I didn't hear from him for a mere 24 hours. It turned out he was catching up on sleep after his long flight.
Needless to say, I can empathize with families back home.
At his base, an undulating patch of sand and rock with broad views of the surrounding desert and distant villages, Andrew is responsible for ensuring that passengers flying in and out of his base are properly manifested and escorted to and from their aircraft. When I visited him I was very proud to see him perform his duties with passion, professionalism, and discipline. As a father, I was also pleased to see how well he got along with his colleagues and how he interacted with fellow Marines and passengers who stopped by for assistance.
In a conflict where there are no front lines, a certain amount of danger exists no matter where one is in this area of the world. Naturally, it is difficult knowing that my son may be in harm's way. I try not to think about it. But when I do, I consider that he's doing what he is doing for similar reasons that I am. And that helps me accept it.
There is a unique bond between those who have deployed to war zones such as Afghanistan. Veterans may try to talk about their experiences to those who have not deployed but there is a particular ease when sharing experiences with someone who has also been there. My son and I will now always have that bond.
There are no civilian-contracted dining facilities at the base my son works. Instead, in a relatively small tent, a handful of Marines are tasked with cooking and serving hot meals at breakfast and dinner; meals-ready-to-eat are available for lunch and midnight meals. Cold showers are taken in another tent. But despite the meager conditions, Andrew said he loves being out there and hopes he can stay there for the remainder of his seven-month deployment. He enjoys the camaraderie among those with whom he serves; one of his favorite activities out there is “family dinner night” when one of his fellow Marines cooks marinated chicken on an improvised barbecue.
I am extremely proud of my son's decision to serve in the military. I had no say in what branch he should choose and I will not disclose what I would have chosen for him if I had. Despite being a U.S. Army Soldier, myself, I am proud of his decision. But most of all I am proud of his passion for what he is doing.
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot
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