Local soldiers reflect on overseas tourA 10-month mission in Iraq and Qatar was one of pride and excitement for Mitchell-area soldiers deployed with the 139th Brigade Support Battalion of Brookings.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
A 10-month mission in Iraq and Qatar was one of pride and excitement for Mitchell-area soldiers deployed with the 139th Brigade Support Battalion of Brookings.
The battalion deployed in July 2011 and returned May 15. The local soldiers say they’re happy to be home and satisfied with the work they accomplished.
The battalion was split into two groups — one was in Qatar and the other in Iraq and later Kuwait.
Staff Sgt. Dennis Schley, of Mitchell, spent his time with the group in Doha, Qatar, serving with the joint logistics support center. Schley and others provided passenger transit assistance, contracting, in-transit material tracking and other logistical support required for the operation.
Schley was in charge of cargo and oversaw its movement in and out of that area, and cargo going from one country to another.
“Sometimes [cargo] would go through there as a hub, and every once in a while it would become frustrated cargo,” he said. “Pretty much it gets lost.”
Schley made sure “frustrated” cargo kept moving to its destination.
Schley and Sgt. 1st Class Joel Rassel , of Woonsocket, said members of the 139th were excited to begin the mission, but also the morale was high when the tour came to an end.
This was Schley’s second deployment, his first being during Desert Storm in the 1990s. He was on active duty in the U.S. Army in the ’90s and now he’s a full-time training non-commissioned officer at Mitchell’s National Guard armory.
For the group in Qatar, the primary danger sometimes seemed to come from the poor driving habits of the locals.
“The danger we faced was from driving in a foreign country. They just kind of go,” Schley said, chuckling. “There’s no lane integrity, as we joke about. They just create a lane.”
Most others in the battalion had been deployed before, Schley said. Rassel is one of the few who had not.
Rassel spent his time with the other group of the 139th in Iraq providing maintenance and supply for soldiers in Baghdad. Mostly the soldiers in Rassel’s group dealt with maintaining civilian equipment such as pickups, tractors and forklifts. They also worked on military equipment.
“Anything that you have to do to be sustained inside of a base,” Rassel said. “It was kind of surprising when we got there how many civilian pickups, suburbans and cars they use, because the base is quite large.”
The base at which the group was stationed is about the size of Mitchell, he said.
Rassel has served in the South Dakota National Guard for 20 years and works in combined support maintenance at Mitchell’s National Guard armory. He also owns his own vehicle maintenance business, Rassel Repair, in Woonsocket.
His experience helped him prepare fellow soldiers for deployment, he said. He worked to train heavy equipment maintenance workers on civilian vehicles and he trained with them to maintain larger military vehicles. Everyone cross-trained in order to make the deployment run smoothly.
“If someone needed help doing supplies or getting something ready to ship out, we all worked with each other,” Rassel said. “We were an interactive group.”
Rassel was a maintenance section chief along with Staff Sgt. Gregory Kock , of Mitchell, and Sgt. 1st Class Leland Johnson, of Alexandria.
Although Rassel’s group was in Iraq, the group was not near any fighting. Members of the group often heard gunfire or explosions but were never in combat situations. Any traveling they did was in helicopters, and they landed in secured areas, Rassel said.
Both Rassel and Schley, like many others, left behind families.
They said community support and communication over the Internet was important to their families during their deployment.
Soldiers from Mitchell and the surrounding area that serve with the 139th Brigade Support Battalion include Sgt. Kelly Burmeister, Master Sgt. Melvin Eilts Jr., Spc. Rhett Eilts, Spc. David Fuegen, Staff Sgt. Gregory Kock, Spc. Christopher Murray, Staff Sgt Dennis Schley, Spc. Jordon Sehnert, Sgt. John Schmidt and Spc. Steven Skinner, all of Mitchell; Staff Sgt. Bryan Flanagan, of Ethan; Sgt. 1st Class Leland Johnson, Alexandria; and Sgt. 1st Class Joel Rassel , Woonsocket.