Mississippi Soldiers return home from Afghanistan
February 25, 2013
VICKSBURG, Miss. - Four local Soldiers returned home from Afghanistan and were applauded and cheered by family, friends and unit members as they arrived at the Jackson-Evers International Airport, Feb. 15, 2013.
Maj. Scott Parker of Clinton, Master Sgt. Daphne Cole-Smith of Laurel, 2nd Lt. Sara Wildee and Spc. Nathan Rowland, both of Vicksburg, deployed for nine months with the 411th Engineer Brigade, 412th Theater Engineer Command, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The 411th Engineer Brigade, as Joint Task Force Empire based in Bagram, was the lead engineer force and had mission command of all engineer operations throughout the country.
In Afghanistan, Cole-Smith worked as the G1 NCOIC for the brigade. Doing the various administrative duties like payroll, promotion boards and awards was easy, she said. The killed and wounded in action was an emotional strain on them.
"The KIAs and WIAs was the hardest part for us," she said. "We tracked the soldier's remains from the time we were alerted, to the time the remains were flown to Dover, Maryland. It was real hard for us."
Cole-Smith has to get used to two things now that she is back. "I don't have to carry a weapon every place I go now," she said. She is also going to have to learn to relax and let someone else take care of her like she took care of Soldiers overseas. That is where her husband comes in. "I'm going to sit back and let him take control until I get things together," Cole-Smith said.
Rowland and his wife embraced. They were married only six weeks before he deployed. "We didn't say much to each other the first few minutes," he said. "We just hugged a lot."
Among Rowland's family members present was his father and fellow Soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Rowland, command sergeant major of the 209th Regional Support Group in Kansas City and a military technician at the 412th TEC.
"It felt good to see my son get off the plane," the senior Rowland said. "I don't really know if the way I raised him is responsible, but I felt a great sense of accomplishment knowing he was successful over there. A parent is always happy for their children," he said.
Besides his wife and father, Rowland's sister, Emma, brother, Evan, and mother, Tina, were present.
"I have gained a great appreciation for my mom," he said. "She's been through five deployments of my father before mine. My brother, First Lieutenant Benjamin Rowland, is still over there now. So, my mom has had to deal with both of us boys over there at the same time."
One of his father's deployments was for 25 months. During this trying time for Rowland's mother, she still managed to look beyond her own needs and support her daughter-in-law, Anna. "My mother helped my wife out more than anyone else," Rowland said.
While deployed, Rowland worked as the team leader for the brigade's geospatial team. This team provided imagery intelligence products, base overlays, route and terrain analysis, to name a few, to elements above and below brigade level throughout all provinces and districts in Afghanistan.
With a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Mississippi State University and his military education and recent warzone experience as a geospatial engineer, Rowland will soon hit the streets looking for work. He's already got his resume in hand. But for now, he is just enjoying being home with his family.
"I'm loving it," he said.