For months we didn’t know whether to prepare for the deployment or prepare for a cross country move. Waiting for the IPAP announcement was excruciating. He trained with his unit, but his entire chain of command knew that he might be selected. One important document in the submission packet was a release signed by command–if he was selected, they would let him go.
He was at the National Training Center when we received news of his selection. NTC is a month long training exercise for entire units. The whole brigade went to test their training in a simulated combat environment. It’s an opportunity for systems checks for the deploying unit and for the families staying behind. Part of the training is a long period of field time during which the soldier has no communication with home. Unsurprisingly, that’s when I got the email from IPAP so I had to wait more than a week to tell him.
We were ecstatic. He immediately let his command know. He was scheduled to report to Fort Sam Houston on August 8, 2011. The Army was required to give him a 90 day stabilization period before the move, so he had to be home May 8, 2011. The unit was scheduled to deploy in January. It only made sense for them to put him on Rear Detachment. He would stay home, assist the Rear D Commander and be ready to leave in July, 2011.
One requirement of the IPAP selection is that the servicemember must have a service term commitment that covers the two years of school plus three extra years after licensing. Translated: Ollie had to re-enlist for six years. If he failed the school or was unable to attend, he would owe the Army another six years as an infantryman. High stakes. We didn’t flinch. Ollie has an incredible intellect–we both knew that if he was selected, he would pass.
Command issued a policy that anyone who was PCSing (moving) or ETSing (leaving the Army for good), by August 1, 2011, would not deploy.
Our PCS date was August 8, 2011. Ollie was put on the deployment roster.
We launched a campaign.
He started with Travis, his platoon leader (a lieutenant). Travis needed Ollie, a seasoned, smart NCO (non-commissioned officer) whose leadership shone at NTC. He had good instincts and although he was frequently deemed “marginally insubordinate” for his candor, Travis felt that he was mission critical. “Are you really scared that you’re going to get hurt?” he asked, insulting Ollie’s manhood in an effort to make him agree to deploy. Ollie didn’t take the bait.
We moved up the chain to the company commander (a captain). We sat down together with him and presented our case. “Please consider our point of view. The risks are too high. He has been selected for this school, which will positively impact the rest of our lives. As a result, he had to commit 6 more years to the Army–if he fails or is unable to attend, he will owe those years in the infantry. That is not part of our career plan. This is the hardest school in the Army, even a mild TBI can ruin his chances and destroy our path. Please. It’s just a week. Please place him on Rear D.”
He said he would take it into consideration. I don’t remember if it was that day or days later, but the answer came back down, “We understand what you’re asking, but we are short on E6’s to deploy. We need you. You have to go. We will try to assign you to a major FOB (Forward Operating Base) as an LNO (Liaison Officer), helping process soldiers coming in and out of the company. We’ll keep you inside the wire.”
I immediately told Ollie it was bullshit. Not the part about him having to go (that was kind of bullshit, too), but the part about him staying on a FOB, away from the rest of the unit. “If you’re going to work at the battalion level, why are you still a squad leader in a line platoon?” They were blowing smoke up our ass.
We exhausted all other avenues of keeping his boots on the ground stateside. Our campaign failed miserably. Ollie would leave for Afghanistan within a few short weeks, in the beginning of January, 2011. We took solace in the fact that he would only be there until the end of April. He had to be on a flight by May 1, 2011, in order to report for school in Texas on time. Three and a half months? We’d spent years apart. This wouldn’t be so bad.
One last short deployment and we would be done with the infantry.