Soldier's multiple deployments spans three combat theater of operations
By: James Vaughn
203rd Engineer Battalion, Unit Public Affairs
Three times during Sgt. 1st Class Leon Lindquist's 37-year military career he has been deployed to a combat theater of operations. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He is currently deployed to Afghanistan as part of the Forward Support Company, 203rd Engineer Battalion.
"I was 18 years old when I went over the first time," Lindquist said. "I was an 88M [transportation specialist] in the Regular Army."
Lindquist, a Joplin, Missouri resident, is now 58-years-old, making him the oldest current member of the 203rd Engineer Battalion. He went into the U.S. Army on a 2-year enlistment and was sent to Vietnam shortly after his initial training. He got out of the Army on an early-out program following his initial training and 12 full months in theater. After about 3 years, he re-enlisted into the 203rd Engineer Battalion as a food service specialist.
"I've been in the 203rd ever since," he said.
Lindquist's job in Vietnam was much like one of the current missions taken on by the Forward Support Company. He drove a cargo truck in a logistics convoy in order to deliver supplies around the battlefield in support of the 101st Airborne Division. He now works as a movement control coordinator in Afghanistan. His typical duties include arrangement of transportation of equipment and personnel as needed for the company and battalion.
Lindquist says his experience with each deployment has varied from one to the next. They didn't get much instruction prior to being sent into theater during Vietnam beyond their individual basic training.
"I had it in my head they would toss us a weapon as we arrived in country and send us straight into combat. We didn't even go qualify on the range before we went over," he said.
"We didn't wear the vest [body armor] and all of our vehicles weren't up-armored," Lindquist said.
Prior to Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, the 203rd received two months of training based on theater provided information. They were also issued the latest gear available to the Army.
"I believe what they teach us now is better, even though it isn't perfect. It at least gives you some idea about what to expect," Lindquist said.
When Lindquist deployed to Iraq with the 203rd, the unit arrived early on during the conflict. Their living conditions were somewhat crude. Dining facilities had not yet been established. Army trained cooks were needed to provide hot meals to Soldiers.
Afghanistan is a more mature theater than Iraq was at the time of Lindquist's deployment. Meals are contracted by civilians. There is no food preparation mission for the FSC in Afghanistan.
"For the first four months we cooked out of our mobile kitchens in Iraq. When we got here it was all set up. The biggest difference is when we first went into Iraq we slept on cots beside our vehicles. I think that's the biggest difference. I liked that part of being in Iraq better than here," he said.
Lindquist will remain in the guard for less than one more year after he returns home from Afghanistan. He will then be required to retire due to age.
"I enjoy food service. I enjoyed the convoys and stuff in Vietnam too-just the excitement of getting from point A to point B without getting blown up. We got blown up a lot. We kept it going through though. It was pedal to the metal." Lindquist said.
Lindquist plans to extend his time in Afghanistan beyond the expected return date of the 203rd. He will be eligible to draw retirement soon after his return to Joplin.
"After you've been in a while, at about the 14th year, you start looking at the retirement sheets. It's pretty good for a part-time job. After I'd been in longer it became something to keep up with the young people at," Lindquist said.
"I'd say what I'm going to miss the most is doing different things and the camaraderie of the Soldier," he said.
Lindquist retired from his job as a maintenance technician for the Joplin school district about two years ago. He and his wife have three sons and two daughters.