By Sgt. 1st Class Abram J. Pinnington November 5, 2012
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Nov. 3, 2012) -- During deployments, Soldiers often live without several opportunities they are afforded back home. For the Rakkasans, voting is not one of them.
Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team "Rakkasans," 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), were provided the opportunity to vote in our nation's 57th quadrennial Presidential elections while deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
It started with the appointing of Voting Assistance Officers to help educate and facilitate the voting process.
"We trained 56 battalion Voting Assistance officers across the brigade," said 2nd Lt. Christine Wilda, a Clarksville, Tenn., native and 3rd BCT Voting Assistance Officer, or VAO. "We wanted to make the process as easy as possible. Instead of having the brigade manage the entire process, it was delegated to the battalions so there were more people to help."
"With three or four VAOs per battalion, implementing a plan was easier," said Wilda. "It was important for Soldiers at the lowest levels to have a representative without having to communicate up to brigade for assistance. We wanted support to be readily available to them."
Second Lt. John Zaehringer, a 3rd Special Troops Battalion VAO, assisted in every way possible.
"Educating Soldiers on the voting process was very important," said Zaehringer. "Soldiers were shown how to register online. If needed, we also helped Soldiers acquire absentee ballots for them to send in."
Registration was potentially complicated for 3rd BCT Soldiers as Fort Campbell shares land within two states so extra preparation was necessary.
"I did research on the registration and voting requirements for deployed Soldiers from both Kentucky and Tennessee," said Zaehringer. "The electronic ballot process for deployed Soldiers in Tennessee was especially easy."
Once educated on the process and registered, Soldiers exercised their right to participate in the political process.
"Voting is important," said Staff Sergeant Sopie Joannides, a McClain, Va., native and intelligence section noncommissioned officer in charge for the 3rd STB. "It is my right as an American, as a Soldier.
"Its my way to influence the course my nation is taking." Joannides continued. "If I don't like the decisions being made and I don't vote to change them, then I have nothing to say."
Participating in the voting process gave Soldiers the opportunity to exercise their rights and have an impact on current events within their government -- even while they are deployed.