Soldiers from a Chattanooga-based Army Reserve unit are working at Fort Bragg., N.C., to help thousands of troops prepare for service in Iraq and Afghanistan and return home at the end of their deployments.
“We just brought in a large unit from New York and in a week’s time we had to process them and get them ready to go train,” said Maj. Jack Mullinax, one of six soldiers from the Chattanooga-based 3397th Garrison Support Unit who volunteered to spend at least a year at Fort Bragg.
Lt. Col. Richard Hale, who was deputy commander of the 3397th, is acting as commander of the 2125th Garrison Support Unit while he serves at Fort Bragg.
Since he arrived in June, his unit has helped deploy more than 7,000 National Guard and Reserve soldiers and bring another 1,000 home. They expect about 4,000 more to return this spring, he said. About half the soldiers he sees are on repeat deployments, said Lt. Col. Hale, an Ooltewah resident.
“I have great respect for the soldiers that come through here,” Lt. Col. Hale said. “We are a volunteer Army, and each of them going downrange volunteered.”
Once the soldiers are processed, which covers everything from medical and dental checkups to getting their equipment and paperwork in order, they spend about 50 days in training at Fort Bragg. Then they have another round of checks before they deploy.
“We will have them the first week they arrive, and we get them back the last week before they deploy,” Lt. Col. Hale said.
Right now, there are about 2,600 soldiers at Fort Bragg doing “theater immersion training,” living in a simulated forward operating base that replicates the conditions they’ll encounter in Iraq, Maj. Mullinax said.
“There’s no running water out there, it all has to be trucked in, there’s no septic system, chow has to be prepared here and taken out there to feed those guys,” Maj. Mullinax said. “What you don’t get until you come out here is how populated it is and how much of a logistical exercise it is to keep it supplied.”
Maj. Mullinax, who was staff operations and training specialist for the 3397th in Chattanooga, is overseeing security, plans and operations, and information management at Fort Bragg for the 2125th.
The job entails 12- to 16-hour days and very few days off. Maj. Mullinax had one day off in January, he said, while Lt. Col. Hale has not had a break since New Year’s Day. But both men said they are glad to devote themselves to the mission of preparing soldiers to deploy, and helping them return home.
“It’s inspiring,” Maj. Mullinax said. “There are very few people, if any, in the Army that haven’t joined or renewed their commitment since 2003. I think it says a lot about them and where they come from and what they see as the importance of what’s being done.”
Maj. Mullinax, who arrived at the base in September, said he and his colleagues work mostly with National Guard and Reserve soldiers. There are six mobilization stations in the Eastern half of the country, and Fort Bragg moves more soldiers than any base besides Camp Shelby, Miss., he said.
A resident of North Georgia, Maj. Mullinax said he volunteered for the year-long assignment, which could stretch into two years, because he wanted to contribute to the wartime mission but couldn’t deploy because his job requires him to stay with a garrison support unit.
“I’m tied to that position and I couldn’t just up and volunteer to go to Iraq,” he said. “This was something meaningful I could do that adds value to what we’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The Garrison Support Unit is tasked with traveling to military bases to help get soldiers to and from their deployments. Nearly 200 members of the 3397th mobilized to Fort Campbell, Ky., in 2003, and about 70 of those soldiers went to Camp Shelby, Miss., in 2004 in support of the war in Iraq. At Fort Campbell in 2003, the 3397th mobilized about 15,000 soldiers and demobilized about 5,000.
But because of an Armywide reorganization, the 3397th Garrison Support Unit is scheduled to be inactivated in September, which means this mission may be a final chance to serve as part of that unit, Lt. Col. Hale said.