By Staff Sgt. Neysa CanfieldJuly 22, 2018
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- When U.S. Army Spc. Mark Ballinger, a native of Hesperia, California, arrived to the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division two years ago, a deployment to Afghanistan was the last thing on his mind.
Assigned to the 40th Infantry Division as a cable systems installer-maintainer, Ballinger said slots for the upcoming two deployments to Afghanistan were scarce upon his arrival to the unit, but he stayed eager and motivated for the possibility of going on one.
"In May, less than a week before we left for Texas for the first phase of the deployment, I received a call from an officer from my unit asking if I was still interested in going to Afghanistan," said Ballinger. "I immediately jumped at the opportunity, they squared me away with the paperwork and I prepared to leave for the mission."
Now, over two months after the phone call, Ballinger, along with more than 30 other Soldiers of the division, stood in formation to receive their combat patch during a patching ceremony on July 15, here.
"When I first arrived to the unit and received the 40th Infantry Division patch I felt part of something bigger than myself, but now being able to wear the patch on both shoulders of my uniform makes me feel even more part of the team," said Ballinger.
Ballinger, who is now part of the communications section for Train, Advise and Assist Command-South, said his goal during the deployment is to gain experience.
"At first I wasn't too excited about having to learn and do the work that (information technology specialist) does, but now I am so happy that I am getting that skill, so I can be a well-rounded signal Soldier when I get back to the states," he said.
Getting first-hand experience and surrounded by the knowledge of a collaborative leadership of active duty Soldiers and Guardsmen in TAAC-South will make Ballinger a better leader in the future, said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mark Anderson.
"(Ballinger) has already expressed that he wants to make the Army a career and he has the motivation and drive to be able to do it," said Anderson, a nodal network systems operator-maintainer with the 40th Infantry Division and Ballinger's supervisor. "This deployment will be a great stepping stone for him so he can receive mentorship from Soldiers who do this line of work day in and day out."
Witnessing Ballinger receive his combat patch brought him joy as noncommissioned officer, said Anderson.
"He's very young in his career and he's doing exactly what he needs to be doing to set himself up for success," added Anderson. "It makes me feel proud to be his NCO and see how much he is excelling and contributing to the mission."
Ballinger said he is excited to learn and be able to use that knowledge to mentor and lead new Soldiers when he gets back to California.
"With everything I learn here I will be able to be a better (cable systems installer-maintainer specialist) and leader," he said. "I want to be a person that others look up to and depend on because they know I can get the job done."