(Host) In 2004 VPR news spoke with Chris Day, a Vermont Army National Guardsman leaving for active duty in Kuwait.
Five years later, Day – who teaches history at Brattleboro Area Middle School – is about to deploy again, this time to Afghanistan.
Recently VPR’s Susan Keese caught up with Day at the Windsor Armory.
(Keese) When Chris Day went overseas the last time he was a first lieutenant and the executive officer of a tank company providing security for a camp on the Kuwait-Iraq border.
Now, he’s a captain. He’s in command of a truck company charged with distributing supplies -which he says could mean everything from ammo to food to concrete barriers.
(Day) There’s a lot of similarities I mean when you roll with tanks or when you roll with truck, There’s a lot of the same kind of thinking…
(Keese) Day is still an enthusiastic teacher. He left for his first deployment with an Arabic phrase book in his pack, and a book on Iraqi culture.
In Iraq he visited the Temple of Ur, an ancient Mesopotamian Ziggurat, and used his photos to help teach about religion in the Fertile Crescent.
(Day) "I’m still eager and I’m still reading books. ‘The Bear Went over the Mountain’ is about different Russian Army experiences when they were in Afghanistan back in 1985. I read ‘Lone Survivor,’, about a Navy Seal who was stranded in the Mountains of Afghanistan; and I read ‘Three Cups of Tea’ about a guy who negotiates with Pakistanis and Afghanistan and figures out how to wade through some of the cultural differences there."
(Keese) He’s known since June that he’ll be going, though even now the mission isn’t pinned down.
But Day says the training he and his troops have had suggests an attitude of partnering he didn’t see before.
(Keese) "Last time I felt like, okay, win hearts and minds. But I don’t feel that we trained to win hearts and minds, we trained to you know, shoot straight and set up perimeters and do Army type things, but this time but this time there’s been a real emphasis on the cultural awareness and the partnering aspect of going to Afghanistan."
(Keese) The training he and his troops went through this fall in Fort Polk Louisiana included a few lessons in the Afghan language Dari.
They also practiced staged scenarios in simulated Afghan villages with Afghan role players. In one, the challenge was to get the convoy through a hostile residential area.
(Keese) " In fact the one scenario was that Coalition forces had run over one of the Afghan kids earlier … so you needed the Afghan police support to get through the village safely. So you as the leader of the convoy had to really negotiate and talk to these Afghan police… or the mayor of the town. The Malak I think they called it."
One thing that hasn’t changed is the difficulty of leaving his wife, Sarah, and their daughter Elizabeth, who’s eight now.
Day says the National Guard’s family support is better than ever. But separations like these are never easy. Still, he’s eager to get started.
(Day) "This is what we do. We train, we train, we train. Now let’s go do something."
(Keese) Day will leave in early January for two months training at Camp Atterbury in Indiana. He’ll be among some 1500 Vermont Army National guardsmen and women in Afghanistan until this time next year.
For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.
Photos below taken at a series Vermont National Guard deployment ceremonies in December,2009 and January, 2010. Credit: Sergeant Elizabeth Strauss, Vermont National Guard Public Affairs Office.