War on Terrorism

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oregon Guardmember finds changed Iraq

By Army Staff Sgt. Pat Caldwell
103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (1/21/11) - Oregon Army National Guard Sgt. Alan Arnson admits Iraq is different.

When the 29-year-old La Grande, Ore., native arrived in Iraq in 2004 on his first deployment, the nation was still struggling to shrug off the shackles of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime.

There was also a full-scale war going on as coalition forces battled insurgents across Iraq.

Fast forward nine years. Now on his second deployment to Iraq, Arnson said the country has changed.

“It is a lot more organized. A lot less like the Wild West,” he said. “It is much better.”

Arnson is just one member of eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) deployed to Iraq.

The unit, consisting of Citizen-Soldier units from across eastern Oregon, mobilized for active duty in September and deployed to Iraq in November.

As the 3rd Battalion’s communications noncommissioned officer, Arnson holds down one of the most important jobs in the unit. Without communications, the unit would be unable to conduct its mission of protecting convoys.

“I manage the [battalion] communications section with the signal officer,” he said.

The battalion communications section ensures an array of different radio and computer systems are operational. At the same time, he and his crew must also trouble shoot any problems that crop up with the unit’s communications edifice.

Arnson did not deploy expecting to hold down a key leadership role in the 3rd Battalion’s communications section.

Right before the battalion departed Camp Shelby, Miss., in November, he was propelled into the communication section’s No. 2 spot. The 3rd Battalion’s top enlisted man, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Wyllie, said the decision to push Arnson into a critical leadership slot was a good one.

“We handpicked him for that position, and he’s performed well,” Wyllie said. “Sergeant Arnson is serving in a position two slots above his rank.”

While the promotion was unexpected, Arnson said he welcomed the opportunity to succeed in a key leadership slot. Now, in Iraq, he and his small team of communications technicians stay busy.

“The hard part of my job is to figure out what could go wrong next,” he said. “You have to stay on top of God knows how many different radio systems.”

Learning to be a leader also presented some challenges, Arnson said.

“I sometimes have to stop and realize I need to delegate, because I’m a workhorse,” he said.

Arnson said he also learned a lot on his first deployment to Iraq – like the importance of planning ahead.

“The first time I failed to plan before I got back. I was young and my first wife and I did not prepare well. We changed. Now I’m thinking ahead,” he said.

Part of that preparation revolves around going back to school. Arnson already earned a Bachelor of Science in Theater Arts at Eastern University, but he said he wants to secure more education and continue his career in the Oregon Army National Guard.

Arnson, who recently remarried, said so far his deployment has been a good one.

“Things are going well,” he said.

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