By Larry Reilly (USAG Stuttgart)June 14, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany -- Some 170 Wardawgs from the 554th Military Police Company quietly filed into the Panzer Kaserne Fitness Center on May 30, only to be overwhelmed by dozens of cheering and screaming families and friends.
It has been a year since the MPs left Stuttgart and deployed to Afghanistan, but by the applause they received at the gym, a passerby would get the impression the MPs had been gone much longer.
"It was truly a great feeling to see the Soldiers walk through the gym doors. It was like a heavy weight had just been lifted off my shoulders," said Sylvia Allen, who, accompanied by her two sons, Vaun and Liam, quickly embraced her husband, Spc. Keith Allen. "Going through a 12-month deployment was not easy, especially with two children under the age of 5."
The Soldiers also faced difficulties and challenges as they endured long days, varying missions and separation, not only from their families, but often from each other.
"During the deployment, the 554th Military Police Company overcame many challenges, and oftentimes various elements of the company were geographically separated from each other," said Capt. Mark Schmidt, 554th Military Police Company commander. "Initially, we were all tasked with area governance and security, to include the training of Afghan National Security Forces. Additionally, the 554th Military Police Company was tasked with providing security for the Commander of International Security Assistance Force."
Downrange, the Wardawgs missions included border security, forward operating base operations, force protection and area security. They also played a key role in the 2009 elections in Afghanistan.
"One of the most unique missions we did was to assist with the Afghan general election process," said Staff Sgt. Chun Huang, squad leader for 2nd Platoon. "We didn't provide direct security at the election sites, but conducted security sweeps of the staging areas around the voting locations to ensure a secure and clear passage for those wishing to vote."
For one Soldier, this deployment gave him insight into some of the Army's newest equipment.
"As a mechanic, this deployment gave me a lot of hands-on experience at doing my job, and I had the opportunity to work on the Army's new MRAP [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected] vehicle," said Sgt. Curtis Jones, Headquarters Platoon, who also deployed with the company in 2007.
"Deployments provide an opportunity to interact more with my leaders and fellow peers than is possible back at garrison," he said.
One aspect of Jones' deployment that differed greatly from his peer group was that his spouse was not in Stuttgart, but downrange with him.
"My wife, Sgt. Devon Jones, is the medic for 1st Platoon, and together we were able to share the experience," Jones said. "We had our tough days, but the deployment really brought us together as a couple."
Communicating was easy for them, but for Soldiers who were not within shouting distance of their loved ones, staying connected was a challenge.
"Using the computer was my main way of staying in touch with Keith, but that just wasn't enough, and I found that other spouses were experiencing the same communication void," said Allen.
However, for Allen, that void didn't just apply to communicating with her husband downrange; it also applied to communicating with other spouses in Stuttgart. So, she decided to do something about it.
"I thought about going home as other spouses did, but I realized I had a better support system here in Stuttgart than I would have at home, and I decided to help other spouses realize the assets that were available to them," Allen said.
She did so by taking the position as the unit's Family Readiness Group leader.
"I had some exposure to what the FRG did and, with some peer pressure, I became the FRG [leader] about midway through the deployment," Allen said. "With support from other spouses, we set up monthly FRG informational meetings and provided community information through an internal monthly electronic newsletter."
The company commander appreciated the role Allen and the FRG played on the home front.
"The unit FRG and rear detachment were instrumental in keeping the families informed throughout the deployment," said Schmidt. "I've found that having an active FRG is important to having a successful mission downrange."