Missouri National Guard adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, welcomes home 93 Guardsmen from a year-long deployment to Egypt .during a welcome home ceremony at Ike Skelton Training Site.
(Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)
By Matthew J. Wilson
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The Missouri National Guard recently welcomed home 93 Citizen-Soldiers from a deployment to Egypt at the Ike Skelton Training Site.
Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 835th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 229th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, both of Jefferson City, returned from the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt where they supported Task Force Sinai as part of the 12-nation Multinational Force and Observers.
The Multinational Force and Observers is an international peacekeeping force overseeing the terms of a 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and its neighbor Israel since 1981.
Although the U.S. has always provided 40 percent of the manpower and a third of the operating budget, these were the first two units from the Missouri Guard to provide support.
While in Sinai, the Missouri Guard, which worked a split operation out of a north and south camp, joined their active-duty brethren to form the 1st Support Battalion.
In addition to providing command and control, the joint battalion's mission included mail and supply delivery, financial services, flight scheduling for aviation assets, sanitation inspections and providing healthcare for the 3,000 personnel who are part of the Multinational Forces and Observers.
The joint battalion was under the command of Col. Eric Evans, who lives in Columbia. Sgt. Maj. Sharon Belt, who lives in Henley, is the battalion's senior enlisted Soldier.
Evans said it was amazing how well these Guardsmen were received by those they worked with throughout the deployment in an area that has seen much political unrest for more than a year.
"I told them that I brought the best of the best from the Missouri National Guard, and I'm not lying," he said. "These young men and women performed far beyond their expectations. In some cases, they worked day and night to accomplish very difficult missions because of the circumstances in the Sinai. I received accolades about our Guardsmen almost every day because they were all smiling, hardworking and got the job done. I can't be more proud of the unit."
Because these Missouri Guardsmen were working with 11 other nations, Evans said accomplishing goals wasn't always easy.
"But it was mostly very gratifying," he said. "We made very close friends with the different nations of the world and I think we showed them what the United States Army, and especially the Missouri National Guard, professionalism was about."
Despite the unrest, Evans said his troops didn't see any direct action beyond some barricades and thrown rocks, although there were some tense moments, none bigger than a six-day stretch in March.
"Our north camp was completely surrounded and we were cut off from all supplies - fuel, water and electricity - for a while," Evans said. "Those were the times that we had to go arm ourselves and patrol inside our perimeter because it had been breached. But luckily it didn't last that long."
Among those returning were the wife and husband tandem of Sgt. 1st Class Amanda Higgins and Staff Sgt. Shawn Higgins, who live in Lohman. Although deployed together, they were separated by camps - Amanda in the south and Shawn in the north - and they only saw each other about once a month while deployed.
"It really still hasn't hit me yet," said Shawn, of being home. "I don't know if this is because it's my second deployment."
The opportunity to go on the same deployment just happened to work out after Amanda, a dental hygienist, found out she was going with the 229th and Shawn, who is normally a cook, volunteered with the 835th as a truck driver.
"At the last minute they needed five drivers and I put my name in," Shawn said.
Shawn and Amanda, who also had deployed once previously, said because they still remained mostly separate, being on the same deployment didn't offer many more advantages with one exception. They did get to take some leave together and see some of the local sights.
Shawn estimates that among the six drivers he worked with, each of them put in about 25,000 miles behind the wheel while deployed.
"We delivered a lot of mail," he said. "There were a lot of long days."
Amanda said she provided dental care to more than 600 people while deployed.
"This deployment helped increase my job skills tremendously," she said.
Sgt. 1st Class Chris Babich, a medic with the 229th, was thrilled to see his wife, Noelle, and their two children.
"It's been a long year," said Babich, who lives in Columbia.
Babich worked as a medic in the south camp. He found the experience to be rewarding as he worked mostly with American forces, but also helped treat some Italian patients. He also was able to work with and learn from an Italian doctor.
"It was interesting," Babich said. "He was great to work with. He was a surgeon, so he was very knowledgeable and easy to work with. Just to have his type of knowledge to draw from on a day-to-day basis was wonderful. I think we learned from each other and it was a great experience."
For their efforts, Babich said he and his fellow medical Soldiers received plenty of unsolicited accolades from the doctors on the staff they worked with.
"Most of us there looked at each other and said, 'We're just doing our jobs,'" Babich said. "We didn't go in with the goal of making these people think we are really good at what we do, we are just going to do what we do. We did our jobs and they were amazed at what the Missouri National Guard can do."
Spc. Ariana Higgins, no relation to Amy and Shawn, said it was good to be home and to see friends and Family.
"It's wonderful to be back and I couldn't be more proud of my unit," said Higgins, who lives in Parkville.
Overall, Higgins, a member of the 229th, said the deployment went smoothly.
"It was quite peaceful most of the time, although there were some ups and downs, but we adjusted," she said.
Her favorite part of the deployment was working with people from other nations.
"It kind of opens your eyes working with units from other nations," Higgins said.
In addition to work, Higgins said she also had the opportunity to travel and see the pyramids and Israel.
"It was a great opportunity to see the world and to complete a great mission for your country," she said.
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Missouri National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Derek Havens, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 835th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, hugs his Family following a welcome home ceremony for 93 Soldiers at Ike Skelton Training Site after their year-long deployment to Egypt.
(Photo by Matthew J. Wilson)