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Sense of Community: Mo. National Guard Staff Sgt. Dennis Chambers Reflects on His First Tour in Iraq

 

After graduating from Central High School, Dennis Chambers served a couple calendar years in the U.S. Army.  After he got out, it took a couple more calendar years for him to figure out that the Army, in the form of the Missouri National Guard, was where he wanted to “help the greater good”.  Today, Staff Sgt. Dennis Chambers is a resident of Nixa Mo. and is assigned to the Joint Task Force Headquarters, Dept of Information Management, at the Missouri National Guard Springfield Armory.  On this edition of the Sense of Community Series produced by KSMU’s Mike Smith, in his own words, Staff Sgt. Dennis Chambers reflects on his military service pre and post 9/11, (including the 1stof 2 tours in Iraq) the dynamics of a military family whose spouse is deployed overseas, and on the benefits of being born on the 4thof July.

 Main Text:  Music fades in. A solo guitar performance by Tony Rice of Shenandoah.

 Staff Sgt. Dennis Chambers:  “What brought me to Military service, I always had a fascination with the Army.  My grandfather served during WWII as a demolitions instructor.  But as I sat there in high school I kept looking at different options.  College, going straight to work, but none of those appealed to me.  I wanted something that would let me go help others.  The Army answered my need for something that I could go out and be productive with, learn a good skill, and also help the greater good.

       My MOS is 25 Bravo, or Information Systems Support.  To put that in more understandable language, my job is to make sure computers telephones and radios can communicate from one point to another.  I first came into the military 17 Sept. 1991, served active duty Army for a year and a half, then got out, really missed wearing the uniform, and then I joined the Missouri National Guard on 31 May, 1996. 

     I always felt like it was what I was meant for.  It may sound cheesy or silly, but I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.  I was born on the 4thof July, so I’ve always had a small affinity for the Nation itself.  I was 10 years old before I realized the fireworks weren’t just for me. 

On the morning of 11 September, I was at the house getting ready for work when my father called to say “We’ve been attacked”.  The emotions I went through watching the events unfold, it was a mixed bag, everything from sheer shock to sheer rage.  As a soldier, it’s my job to do the job that’s needed and yea, part of my wanted to go grab a rifle, find the responsible party and issue good American justice if you will.

     In March 2003, I deployed to Iraq with the 203rdEngineers.  It was a 19 month deployment of which 15 months was spent in Baghdad.  My wife is Sarah, and we have 3 wonderful boys, Isaac, Mathew, and William.  When I deployed in 2003, Isaac was 3, Mathew was 2 and my youngest son William was 9 months old.  Separating from each other for those 19 months strained us and bound us together in ways I can’t put in complete words.

 The 1st4 months we were over there, we had no real good communication assets that got us back the States on a regular basis, so my communication to my wife and children was all done by letters.  And letters from me were usually written on the back of a MRE box that I would scribble on and send home.  The separation caused some growing pains but we’ve made it through and we are tighter because of that.    

       While was deployed to Iraq on my 1sttour, my primary function, to put it in laymen’s term, I was a communications guy.  I was the guy everybody came to with “my radio doesn’t work.  My telephone doesn’t work”.  My job was to make sure those worked so that when you needed bullets, you could call for them.  If you needed food, you could call for it.  Most days I was successful, but there were a few days when I’m sorry the part isn’t here and we’re gonna have to do what we can.  And being as early as it was in the Iraq war, there was no Radio Shack down the road, so there was a lot of creativity.  There was times that when a cable got cut for any reason the only way it was still working after that was binder twine and duct tape.

     As an engineering battalion as a whole, the 203rdmission was to build infrastructure for the U.S. Military to act there.  While my job was a radio telephone/radio guy, my unit’s mission was to build barracks for people to sleep in, offices for people to work out of, walls to surround the compound to protect us, watch towers for guards to stand in.  Easter of 2004 Baghdad International Airport or BIAP, which was the compound we were staying at came under attack, but thankfully throughout my deployment, a bullet never found me and I never had to send a bullet out.

     Going Home…July 2ndof 2004 we rolled out, and we left Iraq the same way we came in.  We drove in 8 hours from Kuwait to Baghdad, and we drove 8 hours back to Kuwait.

Towards the end of July we finally got a plane ride home.  Landed in Bangor Maine to and crossed Customs, and God love the people up there.  One lady handed me a cell phone and said “Here, call your family.”  I dialed the wife’s cell phone and it was nothing but tears from both sides of the phone for about 5 minutes.  After we both gained composure, said I love you to each other, I told her I would see her at Fort Leonard Wood in about 6 hours.

     Much like citizen soldiers are built for, we will put our rifles back on the shelf, set our uniforms back in the closet, go back and till the field, work in the factory, go back to our business until the next time we’re needed.  And we will be ready.

     Be it a conflict somewhere on the globe, or a natural disaster in Missouri, hopefully neither one comes.  I have the unique job that I’m proud to do, but I wake up every day and go “If my job wasn’t needed, if a soldier wasn’t needed, the world would be a better place.”  And there’s some cognitive dissonance there of saying “I want a world where my job doesn’t exist, but I think one day we might get there.”

The story above was produced by Mike Smith for the KSMU Sense of Community Series 30 September 2011.