There is an inscription on the 1890 Gate to Harvard Yard that reads: "Enter to grow in wisdom. Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind."
It might well have served as the motto of the U.S. Army Logistics Civil Augmentation Program Support Unit (LOGCAP), which deployed from the Mosby Reserve Center near Fort Belvoir last Friday morning. Its deployment served as a rare glimpse into the elusive world of the war on terrorism.
As explained in the deployment announcement, "This all-reserve unit attached to the U.S. Army Material Command (AMC) is the military interface between military units and the civilian contractors providing logistical support to those units in the field. Members of this unit deploy anywhere the Army sends soldiers."
The 33 members of LOGCAP assembled at the center will be deployed to 11 locations around the world with orders that could keep them there for up to one year or more if circumstances demand. They will serve as the primary liaison between commanders on the ground and "battlefield" contractors.
"LOGCAP is the premier contractor unit to support troops throughout the globe. They are federal employees. These people will come under senior representatives that are already in the field. Their mission is to advise commanders how to best utilize our field contractors," said Don Trautner, program manager, LOGCAP.
Col. Francis B. Tavenner Jr., commander of the unit, had specifically requested that they report to the Center in civilian clothes. "I wanted to make the point that these are truly citizen soldiers. They represent a wide variety of specialists and have family obligations and personal lives and responsibilities" he said.
Capt. Jeanine Cunliffe of Herndon was a prime example of his point. She is the mother of an 8-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, and her morning started even earlier than most.
"I dropped my husband, John, off at Fort Meade about 4:30 a.m. He's a captain with the 323 Military Intelligence Battalion and is also deploying. We won't be seeing each other for a while," she explained.
"My sister quit her job in New Jersey and moved in with us to take care of the kids until one or both of us get back," Cunliffe said.
"The kids are taking it pretty well. We have worked hard to prepare them for an eventuality like this. But it's still rough."
FROM THE CENTER she boarded the bus with the rest of her unit for processing at Fort Eustis, Va. Her husband's processing will take place at Fort Dix, N.J. She had no idea of her final destination since members of LOGCAP will be sent to 11 locations around the world.
Soldiers from this unit are presently in Kuwait, Djibouti, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. They have also traveled to East Timor to support United Nations peacekeeping efforts. Teams can be as small as a single soldier assisting a combat commander.
LOGCAP contractors provide logistical services encompassing everything from laundries to baths, to mail rooms, to mess halls. They build tent cities and provide engineering and construction support.
This frees the Army units to concentrate on their primary missions, according to AMC information. Presently based on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria, AMC is scheduled to move onto Fort Belvoir grounds this year. As stated in the Command's literature, "If a soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, or eats it, AMC provides it."
Capt. Anthony Bradford has just returned from Afghanistan, where he spent the last eight months as part of an AMC mission. "It was a real eye-opener," he said. "We were there to improve the quality of life for the troops both in food operations and living facilities."
That same eye-opening experience was about to become a reality for Lt. Col. Karen LeDoux, second in command of the deploying unit. "We find out what the commanders' needs are and make sure the contractors meet those needs," she said.
MOST OF THE 27 male and six female members of the unit were from the Washington metropolitan area. "Being from this area is a real plus for us. It helps with family support while they are deployed," Tavenner explained.
"These days there are many cases where both parents are mobilized. That is why we have a Family Care Plan. Such a plan has to be in place before both parents will be deployed," he insisted.
During his remarks to the assembled troops, Tavenner emphasized, "As we are deployed, we will keep families thoroughly informed as to what is going on. The reason I wanted you to report in civilian clothes was to emphasize that you are citizen soldiers with your own individual lives."
Before the formal assembly, family groups gathered in small pockets around the hall. Husbands, wives, fiances and fiancees, children and grandparents, brothers and sisters — it was a scene that has been enacted and re-enacted throughout history.
As chaplain Lt. Col. Carol Van Schenkoff noted in her remarks, "This has been a week of highly charged emotions for each of you, emotions that you have suppressed or had boil over."
It never gets easier. It never will. No matter what the title of the war. Or the location of the "battlefield."