Life in a bag
September 6, 2011
During the spring and summer of 2001, 1st Infantry Division Staff Sgt. Richard LaVergne's suitcases were rarely far from the front door of his Lake Charles, La., home.
Then a member of the Louisiana National Guard's Quick Reaction Force, LaVergne often found himself reporting to the headquarters of 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment at a moment's notice to respond to the hurricanes, floods and fires that seemed so common that year.
"(2001) was a very busy year," LaVergne said recently.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the self-described Louisiana Cajun had just returned home from work on an offshore oil rig and was looking forward to a few quiet days when he turned on the news to "see what was going on in the world."
That's when he saw the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.
"When the second plane hit, my wife turned and looked at me and I just said, 'I've got to go,'" LaVergne said. "I knew immediately there was something bad going on so I grabbed my bags and headed to the battalion."
By the time LaVergne made it to battalion headquarters, 20 other QRF Soldiers were already there.
"It was just a habit to grab our bags and go," he said. "We were ready to do whatever they needed us to do but we had no idea what was going to happen next."
Standing in a quiet group in the battalion's drill area, LaVergne and the rest of the QRF Soldiers watched the plane hit the Pentagon, listened to the reporters relay information about a plane going down in Pennsylvania and waited for guidance.
"It was a long waiting game," LaVergne said. "We all got sent home that night but, within the week, we all had orders to go out and support units that were being tapped to go to Afghanistan."
LaVergne was attached to Louisiana National Guard transportation unit that was supposed to go into Afghanistan through Turkey. The unit's orders were pulled just as the Soldiers were stepping on the plane.
LaVergne's first deployment didn't come until 2003 when he crossed the berm into Iraq just behind the 4th Infantry Division. That deployment to Iraq was the first of five visits to the country that LaVergne would make during the course of the next eight years.
"The first time I went over, I went because it is my duty," he said. "I'm a U.S. Soldier, I train to fight and I fight. If a war breaks out and a Soldier doesn't go fight, it's like leaving a fire extinguisher in the corner as a fire rages all around it."
The more than 3,600 days that have passed since LaVergne sat down to relax on the couch at his house have been full of many things, some wonderful, some terrible. He has attended Iraqi weddings; provided outer perimeter security during the capture of Saddam Hussein; watched his wife Patricia grow in strength and independence; celebrated the young man his 6-year-old son has become; escorted the Saddam Hussein prosecutors; grieved the nine members of his company who were killed when their vehicle was flipped into a canal by an IED blast; trained U.S. Soldiers and Iraqi soldiers; cleaned up his hometown following the devastation of Hurricane Rita; officially became an active duty Soldier; and spent 59 months walking the dusty streets of a country that was not his own.
Today LaVergne's bags are again packed and ready as he waits for word on his next deployment, this time with the 1st Infantry Division's Sustainment Brigade. While many things have changed since Sept. 11, 2001, LaVergne's commitment to serving his country and protecting his fellow fighting men and women remain as solid as they were 10 years ago when he sat down on his couch to watch the morning news.
"I have been deployed five times and will not stop until they don't let me go anymore or all of our Soldiers come home," he said. "This is a hard life but it is a life I love."