KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - His reasons for joining the U.S. Army were ones frequently heard from countless other Soldiers; being inspired by a close relative and the chance to find himself and see some of the world. But Sgt. Cecil L. Montgomery still serves not simply because of an attachment to the past, but largely for two special reasons left behind in Kentucky, one of whom still gets around on all fours.
Montgomery, a native of the small town of Many, La., is an infantryman and squad leader attached to 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke.His platoon, popularly known as "The Dragoons," is based at Combat Outpost Narizah, when not out on patrol. Unfortunately for anyone desiring a laid-back deployment, however, the Dragoons aren't in the habit of idly sitting on the COP and watching the days go by.Such an action-packed infantry life is fine with Montgomery, though. He picked his military occupation specialty, because the challenge and the physical aspects of the job intrigued him. Having had an up close and personal view of Army life through his father's military service, he joined up because "I just wanted to do something. College wasn't working," he said.With almost five years into his military career now, Montgomery said he's leaning toward making a career of it. Ultimately any decision will be made with his wife, Briana, a supply Soldier at Fort Knox. Knowing first-hand what it's like being a dual military couple, they also balance those responsibilities alongside the care of their daughter Aubrey, who is only 7-months old.Civilian life will have to wait, but that doesn't mean he isn't already looking ahead to the next stage of his professional career."I think I'll try criminal justice when I get out, maybe try for the DEA or FBI," he added, referring to a potential career path involving the Drug Enforcement Agency or Federal Bureau of Investigation.For now though, the potential future as a G-Man is on hold, with his daily responsibilities of providing a safer, more secure Afghanistan taking precedence. Some of his fellow Soldiers are glad Montgomery's future civilian exploits are on the back burner and lay far ahead, because for them, the present is where he's most valuable."(He's) one of the best Soldiers I've ever worked with," said Spc. Abram Sandoval, an infantryman from Phoenix, Az., and a member of Montgomery's squad, who added that Montgomery's invaluable experience "helps you think to be two steps ahead of the enemy."The Dragoons spend most days on an aggressive rotation of combat patrols that feature regular trips to nearby villages, designed to not only improve security but foster greater understanding and friendships with local residents. Even on days when not patrolling, however, they're busy performing security and other necessary tasks.
So far, though, this tour has been a far cry from Montgomery's last 12-month deployment to Afghanistan with 3/1, which he spent in the notoriously volatile Korengal Valley of Kunar Province. That isolated mountainous region on the eastern border with Pakistan, filled with caves and canyons, was the scene of near daily exchanges of fire between NATO and insurgents, who used the valley to filter weapons and fighters into Afghanistan. Coalition forces have since pulled out of the region, choosing instead to focus on protecting Afghan population centers.
This newer emphasis of helping Afghans learn to help themselves in the Task Force Duke area of operations, rather than the constant violence he had been accustomed to in the Korengal Valley, is a welcomed change of pace for Montgomery."We got in fire fights every day," said Montgomery, recounting the daily perils of his last deployment.And just as competition for athletes is often secondary to the months of preparation and training, Montgomery admits that training and building unit cohesion are essential long before using such skills on the battlefield. That's why teamwork holds a special place of importance for him."It's the most important thing you do. You can't do everything by yourself," he said.Montgomery is responsible for nine other Soldiers, his duties consisting of monthly counselling, and accountability of equipment and personnel that includes vehicles, weapons and communications equipment, not to mention daily supervision on combat patrols.While all of the aforementioned duties are important, he knows that his infantry-specific skills are most important on this deployment. According to Montgomery, however, the often gruelling nature of the job would be a lot harder if not for the people he works with and the training beforehand.Montgomery credits his team's month-long tour at the National Training Center last August with getting him and his troops ready for the current deployment.The Fort Irwin, Calif.- based NTC is the Army's premiere training facility, and is used as a large scale training facility to get units ready to go into combat."You learn what's new in Afghanistan since you had been in garrison, as well as being good for the new guys," he said.The most important advice he dispenses to Soldiers on their first deployment may seem partly misguided, but other veterans would likely agree."Don't think about home, as hard as that may be. Stay focused on your job and do the right thing," he said, alluding to the need to avoid complacency when out on patrol.Still, as a combat veteran with two deployments to his credit, Montgomery knows daily life isn't always about missions. Equally important is dealing with the inevitable stress associated with the job, and how to cope with it through infrequent leisure activities."We're always playing X-Box or listening to music. Once we get done with patrols, I try to relax, watch movies, and get plenty of sleep," he said.To stay in shape, he does push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. Other than that, his normal duties and patrolling keep him active and burning calories, he said.As far as what goes in his stomach and where he hangs his hat, Lady Luck smiled on him and the Dragoons this time around, as far as he's concerned."Living conditions are a whole lot better. The food here is 100 percent better than COP Restrepo," he said, referring to the combat outpost from his last deployment.His present stay in Afghanistan may only be two months old, but when factored with his previous time here, Montgomery is quick to mention what has stuck with him the most."I'll remember how unique the people (Afghans) are. These people have a very strong desire and drive to succeed," he said.More importantly, however, is the way in which Montgomery will be remembered by those whom he works with."He's a squared-away squad leader, tactically sound and efficient, and that's why he's my dismounted squad leader," said 2nd Lt. Andrew Short, Montgomery's platoon leader and Charleston, W.V., native."When I need something done, he gets it done," said Short.Daily life will likely continue to be challenging and tiring for Montgomery and the Dragoons over the next 10 months, and despite what he may have told his young Soldiers about staying focused on the mission and not to think about home, he'll be the first to tell you he thinks a lot about those left behind.After all, it's kind of hard not to when one of two people you care about most is just starting to find her footing in this world, literally."I want to see my daughter walk," smiled Montgomery, allowing himself to think about his Aubrey's birthday of June 25, when he hopes to join her on his mid-tour leave.