88th Co. MPs begin 2-year deployment

88th Co. MPs begin 2-year deployment – America at War

Michele Hammonds

FORT EUSTIS, Va.-Cpl. Ryan Clark was shocked when he was given the news that he was among the 42 Army Reservists with the 88th Military Police (MP) Company who were being activated the very next day and were scheduled to begin a two-year deployment stateside.

“My first response was ‘Oh my God’,” said Clark, married and the father of two girls. “We were told that we would be mobilized for two years.”

Army Reserve Capt. Edward McKnight, 88th MP Co. commander, spoke to the 42 MPs before they left by convoy bound for Fort Dix, N.J. on Oct. 21.

“This is a viable mission, an important mission for you to provide force protection and law enforcement security at Fort Dix, Fort Devens, Mass. and the federal building in Boston,” he said.

Shortly after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks on the United States, 88th MP Co. soldiers were notified that they could be activated, but not given a date. Once activated, the MPs learned they’d have very little response time before they were scheduled to deploy the following Sunday.

“It was very hectic at first because we were told 10:30 Wednesday morning that we were being mobilized the next day,” he said.

Clark, a 13-year veteran and carpenter in civilian life with Monogram Building and Design, said that, after recent terrorist attacks, he was glad that he went through his military gear on his own and gathered up all his equipment.

“I was packed and ready to go in a matter of hours once I received the news at my unit,” said Clark, 29. “One of the perks of working for the company (Monogram) is that my uncle owns it and he is very supportive of my Reserve job.”

Leaving behind his wife, Michelle and two girls, ages 2 and 6, is hard, he said. Clark will miss his oldest daughter’s birthday next month and miss taking his girls out for Halloween.

“I am coping with this one day at a time,” he said. “I miss my family, but I will try to talk to my wife every day.”

His wife Michelle is a working mom who now has additional responsibilities in the wake of her husband’s absence. She says she will manage.

“I am trying to hold up and I have had to make a few adjustments. Both of our children will miss their father.”

Since the deployment, Clark, who dreamed of going into law enforcement in his civilian career has also had to make changes in his life.

“I started filling out the Maryland State Police application, but I had to put that on hold,” he said.

About 70 family members and friends said goodbye to the Reservists last fall. Some smiled; some cried and hugged each other constantly. For newlyweds Spc. Dallas. and Sonya Pierce, it was a sad occasion.

“I feel sad because we just got married in April, and we are expecting our first child in February, so I have a mixture of emotions,” said Sonya, 25.

Dallas, 27, who reported to the company last week for the first time since leaving the Inactive Ready Reserve, said he was used to deploying to different places. Previously, Dallas served three years on active duty with the 16th MP Brigade (Bde.) at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“I am sure they will let me come back temporarily for the baby’s arrival because my unit is very good about supporting, soldiers,” Dallas said.

When Dallas received his orders, he reported Oct. 19 to the 88th, where he had been transferred only the day before. He said he took it all in stride.

“I have deployed before at Fort Bragg, where it was a daily occurrence,” Dallas said. “I have my cell phone and my wife has hers, so we will keep in touch.”

Spc. Jessica Ramer, 22, and a corrections officer in civilian life, said she is trying to adjust to the two-year deployment.

“I was upset at first because I have family here. Jeff is here and my job,” she said. “I think I am okay now that I have my affairs in order.”

Ramer’s significant other, Jeff Rabenda said the news came as a shock to him. He had two days to move Ramers’ belongings and say goodbye to her family.

“She has a civilian job and she is in the Reserve. I definitely thought something would happen like a six- or nine-month deployment, but I didn’t expect a two-year activation stateside,” Rabenda said.

Ramer and Rabenda plan to visit each other during her deployment.

Once the 42 MPs arrive at Fort Dix, they will participate in the Soldier Readiness Process. Their personnel and medical records will be checked. The MPs will receive additional weapons qualification training before they leave. Their final destination will be at Fort Dix and Fort Devens, where they will provide law enforcement security, said Master Sgt. Chris Rodriguez, the company’s operation sergeant. Those assigned to Fort Devens will also rotate back and forth to the federal building in Boston, Mass.

“The advantage is they are staying in the states,” Rodriguez said. “Our company was split up to support Operation Noble Eagle for homeland defense.”

Brig. Gen. Ted Szakmary, brigade commander for the 220th MP Bde., visited the 88th Oct. 20 at Fort Eustis, Va. The commander told his soldiers that he lost 17 friends when the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

“Our mission is to protect homeland defense,” he said. “MPs are some of the hardest working soldiers out there, working 12-hour shifts per day.”

Szakmary passed out business cards to the MPs and told them to contact him if they had issues that they couldn’t resolve and he would assist them.

“I am trying to instill, in the soldiers that just because you are deployed doesn’t mean that you don’t matter,” he said. “I am telling the troops left behind to take care, of soldiers that are deploying.”

Szakmary said some of his soldiers had to leave good paying jobs and would face pay cuts. Others face problems with disgruntled employers.

“Maybe I can write a letter and go see a boss or an employer on a soldier’s behalf. I care about each and every soldier — we are family.”

The unit’s First Sergeant, Denny Skiles, who is accustomed to taking care of his soldiers, plans to keep close tabs on them in an effort to keep continuity within the company.

“I will go with them for the first week to help them get established operationally,” he said. “I will go up once a month to check on their status and to provide assistance when needed.”

“They can sustain their training while they are at their Mobilization station,” Skiles said. “When they come back, they will still be trained as combat-support MPs.”

(Staff Sgt. Hammonds is with the 214th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Richmond, Va.)

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