Friday, September 09, 2011

Face of Defense: Soldier Recalls Post-9/11 Duty Tours

By Mollie Miller
1st Infantry Division

FORT RILEY, Kan., Sept. 9, 2011 - During the spring and summer of 2001, Army Staff Sgt. Richard LaVergne's suitcases were rarely far from the front door of his Lake Charles, La., home.

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Army Staff Sgt. Richard LaVergne, now a member of the 1st Infantry Division, has spent more than 59 months in duty time in Iraq in five deployments over eight years. U.S. Army courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Then a member of the Louisiana National Guard's quick reaction force, LaVergne, now a member of the 1st Infantry Division based here, often found himself reporting to the headquarters of 3rd Battalion, 156th Infantry Regiment at a moment's notice to respond to the hurricanes, floods and fires that seemed so common that year.

"[2001] was a very busy year," LaVergne said.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the self-described Louisiana Cajun had just returned home from work on an offshore oil rig and was looking forward to a few quiet days when he turned on the television to "see what was going on in the world."

LaVergne then saw the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.

"When the second plane hit, my wife turned and looked at me and I just said, 'I've got to go,'" LaVergne said. "I knew immediately there was something bad going on, so I grabbed my bags and headed to the battalion."

By the time LaVergne arrived at battalion headquarters, 20 other QRF soldiers were already there.

"It was just a habit to grab our bags and go," he said. "We were ready to do whatever they needed us to do, but we had no idea what was going to happen next."

Standing in a quiet group in the battalion's drill area, LaVergne and the rest of the soldiers watched televised reports of the plane that hit the Pentagon and listened to reporters relay information about a plane going down in Pennsylvania.

"It was a long waiting game," LaVergne said. "We all got sent home that night, but within the week we all had orders to go out and support units that were being tapped to go to Afghanistan."

LaVergne was attached to a Louisiana National Guard transportation unit that was slated to go to Afghanistan. The unit's orders were pulled just as the soldiers were stepping onto the aircraft.

LaVergne's first deployment didn't come until 2003 when he crossed the berm into Iraq just behind the 4th Infantry Division. That deployment was the first of five visits to Iraq that LaVergne would make during the next eight years.

"The first time I went over, I went because it is my duty," he said. "I'm a U.S. soldier, I train to fight and I fight. If a war breaks out and a soldier doesn't go fight, it's like leaving a fire extinguisher in the corner as a fire rages all around it."

Much time has passed. LaVergne sits down to relax on a couch in his house and relay stories of his duty tours in Iraq. He reflects on the Iraqi weddings he's attended, pulling perimeter security duty, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and other events.

LaVergne said his wife, Patricia, has grown in strength and independence during his absences, and he basks in pride at how his 6-year-old son has helped his mother.

The much-deployed soldier also recalled when he escorted Saddam Hussein's prosecutors, grieved for the nine members of his company who were killed by an improvised explosive device, and other Iraq memories.

Now, LaVergne's bags are again packed and ready as he awaits word on his next deployment, this time with the 1st Infantry Division's Sustainment Brigade. While many things have changed since 9/11, LaVergne said his commitment to serving his country remains as solid as it was a decade ago, when he sat down on his couch to watch the morning news.

"I have been deployed five times and will not stop until they don't let me go anymore or all of our soldiers come home," he said. "This is a hard life, but it is a life I love."

Sean P Eagan

Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans
Life Member Veterans of Foreign Wars
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