Operation Tribute to Freedom

Faces From the Front for July 4, 2011 - Spc. Felicia Dea Ann Hemphill and Spc. Austin Hemphill

Specialist Felicia Dea Ann Hemphill

Current Unit: 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division
Current Position: Female Engagement Team and Truck Driver
Component: National Guard
Current Location: Afghanistan
Hometown: Emerson, Iowa
Years of Service: 2

Specialist Austin Hemphill

Current Unit: 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division
Current Position: Infantryman
Component: National Guard
Current Location: Afghanistan
Hometown: Emerson, Iowa
Years of Service: 3

Currently deployed with the 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, Spc. Felicia Hemphill and her brother Spc. Austin Hemphill have learned much about themselves, the world, and one another during their first tour to the Middle East.

While she primarily serves as a truck driver in the U.S. Army, Felicia was deployed as part of a female engagement team that works to rebuild Afghan communities through the training and education of women. Her team provides useful lessons on sewing, farming and medicine to local women in the hopes that these skills will filter through to the general population.

“We try to give projects the women can teach to each other and their daughters, to make their family’s lives better and make the community better as a whole.”

Afghan woman are not in a direct position of power, however they are highly influential. For this reason, it is important that U.S. forces establish a positive relationship with the local female populace.

“The Afghan women have a very strong opinion in the households,” explained Felicia. “The sons normally ask their mothers if they can join the Taliban. If the mother approves, then the son joins; if she does not, then the son doesn't join.”

Like his sister, Austin’s duties also help efforts to stabilize Afghan communities. Responsible for quick fire support, his main job is to protect fellow Soldiers by stifling enemy fire in battle through the use of mortar guns. He also provides fire support during patrols, to help ensure the safety of other members in his unit while they work to establish positive relationships with local citizens.

“It is important because in fire fights I can suppress enemy fire,” Austin said. “It helps my fellow soldiers by allowing them to regroup and take control of the situation. We have gained a great relationship with the Sub Governors of our districts, and we are trying to continue building on these relationships to help rid this area of Taliban,” he explained.

In addition to her duties with the female engagement team, Felicia is also Combat Lifesaver Certified and regularly takes part in foot patrols that scan the local security of Afghan towns and protect against the threat of insurgent violence. During these patrols she is often called on to use her capabilities as a medic.

“I am Combat Lifesaver Certified, so this makes it possible to provide care when our female medic is not on missions,” said Felicia. “My main responsibility on missions is to search females, help with casualty care if a female is hit in combat, and to investigate non-threatening female facilities such as visiting girls' schools and women's medical clinics.” She added, “We have also learned many infantry skills such as searching houses, searching personnel, and how to maneuver if engaged in fire fights.”

As an infantryman, her brother Austin is also heavily involved in patrols, and the two are sometimes sent out on the same missions—an experience they have a similar outlook on.

“When we are out on missions we put everything aside and focus on our mission at hand” said Austin.

Felicia agrees.

“It is like any other mission. We try to not think of it as 'I have a brother on this mission' because I have brothers on every mission,” she explained. “This whole company has become my family.”

While Felicia’s mission is to help improve the lifestyle of the people of Afghanistan, her work has had an effect on the way she views things back in the U.S.

“You realize the small things that seemed so big back home are really not that big,” she explained. “The simple things I took for granted back home are the things people long for here; clean water, medical care for their family, and safety.”

Felicia’s deployment experience has also opened her eyes to some crucial attributes of leadership.

“Patience is key,” stated Felicia. “I need to have patience, compassion, and firmness to be able to lead under pressure. I have seen many officers in charge do an amazing job over here, and I am going to try and follow their lead so future Soldiers can trust in my leadership.”

Their overseas experience has helped to strengthen their bond.

“I have my sister here, so I don’t get home sick,” explained Austin. “We have become closer and more understanding of each other during deployment.”

“It makes it easier to not be homesick because I have family here and I can talk to him when I have a bad day,” added Felicia. “We didn't really understand each other until this deployment and now we enjoy each other's company.”

However, they still miss the rest of their family, especially Felicia’s five year old son, but manage to stay connected through modern technology.

“The most challenging part has been being away from my nephew—I really miss taking him paintballing and cruising around town,” stated Austin. “I try to call him when I get the chance and talk to him on Skype when he is able.”

Austin and Felicia expect to return home this summer. Upon arrival Felicia plans to move to Ames, Iowa to finish college while Austin will begin taking classes for computer programming in addition to working with a local contracting company.

Telling the Army Story: Community Relations

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