War on Terrorism

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Face of Defense: Family, Comrades Motivate Soldier

By Army Staff Sgt. John Zumer
Task Force Duke

KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan, March 17, 2011 – His reasons for joining the Army are ones frequently heard from countless other soldiers: being inspired by a close relative and the chance to find himself and see some of the world.

But Army Sgt. Cecil L. Montgomery still serves not simply because of an attachment to the past, but largely for two special reasons left behind in Kentucky, one of whom still gets around on all fours.

Montgomery, a native of the small town of Many, La., is a 1st Infantry Division infantryman and squad leader attached to 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Duke. His platoon, popularly known as “The Dragoons,” is based at Combat Outpost Narizah when they’re not out on patrol.

Unfortunately for anyone desiring a laid-back deployment, however, the Dragoons aren’t in the habit of idly sitting at their outpost and watching the days go by.

Such an action-packed infantry life is fine with Montgomery, though. He picked his military occupational specialty because the challenge and the physical aspects of the job intrigued him. He also had an up-close-and-personal view of Army life through his father’s military service, he said.

“I just wanted to do something,” he added. “College wasn’t working.”

After almost five years of Army service, Montgomery said he’s leaning toward making the military a career, though ultimately, any decision will be made with his wife, Briana, a supply soldier at Fort Knox, Ky. The dual-military couple must balance responsibilities with caring for their 7-month-old daughter, Aubrey.

Civilian life will have to wait, Montgomery said, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t already looking ahead to the next stage of his life. He’s considering a career with either the Drug Enforcement Agency or the FBI after his Army service.

For now though, that potential future is on hold. His daily responsibilities of providing a safer, more secure Afghanistan take precedence. Some of his fellow soldiers are glad Montgomery’s future civilian exploits are on the back burner and lay far ahead, because for them, the present is where he’s most valuable.

“[He’s] one of the best soldiers I’ve ever worked with,” said Army Spc. Abram Sandoval, an infantryman from Phoenix who is a member of Montgomery’s squad. He added that Montgomery’s invaluable experience “helps you think to be two steps ahead of the enemy.”

The Dragoons spend most days on an aggressive rotation of combat patrols. Regular visits to nearby villages are designed to not only improve security but foster greater understanding and friendships with local residents. Even on days when not patrolling, however, they’re busy performing security and other necessary tasks.

So far, this tour has been a far cry from Montgomery’s last 12-month deployment to Afghanistan with Task Force Duke, which he spent in the notoriously volatile Korengal Valley of Kunar province. That isolated, mountainous region on the eastern border with Pakistan, filled with caves and canyons, was the scene of near-daily exchanges of fire between NATO forces and insurgents, who used the valley to filter weapons and fighters into Afghanistan. Coalition forces since have realigned, focusing on protecting Afghan population centers.

This newer emphasis of helping Afghans learn to help themselves in the Task Force Duke area of operations, rather than the constant violence he had been accustomed to in the Korengal Valley, is a welcome change of pace for Montgomery.

“We got in fire fights every day,” he said, recounting the daily perils of his last deployment.

And just as competition for athletes often is secondary to the months of preparation and training, Montgomery noted, training and building unit cohesion are essential long before soldiers reach the battlefield. That’s why teamwork holds a special place of importance for him.

“It’s the most important thing you do,” he said. “You can’t do everything by yourself.”

Montgomery is responsible for nine other soldiers. He conducts monthly counseling sessions, maintains accountability of equipment and personnel, and provides daily supervision on combat patrols.

But his infantry-specific skills are most important on this deployment, he said, and his job would be a lot harder if not for the people he works with and the training beforehand.

Montgomery credits his team’s month-long tour at the National Training Center in August with getting him and his troops ready for the current deployment.

The center at Fort Irwin, Calif., is a large-scale training facility designed to get units ready to go into combat.

“You learn what’s new in Afghanistan since you had been in garrison, [and it’s] good for the new guys,” he said.

Montgomery said the most important advice he dispenses to soldiers on their first deployment may seem partly misguided, but other veterans may agree.

“Don’t think about home, as hard as that may be,” he said. “Stay focused on your job and do the right thing.”

Still, as a combat veteran with two deployments to his credit, Montgomery knows daily life isn’t always about missions. Equally important is dealing with the inevitable stress associated with the job, and how to cope with it through leisure activities.

“We’re always playing X-Box or listening to music,” he said. “Once we get done with patrols, I try to relax, watch movies, and get plenty of sleep.”

To stay in shape, he does push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. Other than that, he said, his normal duties and patrolling keep him active and burning calories.

As far as what goes into his stomach and where he hangs his hat are concerned, Lady Luck smiled on him and the Dragoons this time around, Montgomery said.

“Living conditions are a whole lot better. The food here is 100 percent better than [Combat Outpost] Restrepo,” he said, referring to his last deployment.

Montgomery is quick to mention what has stuck with him the most during his two deployments.

“I’ll remember how unique the [Afghans] are,” he said. “These people have a very strong desire and drive to succeed.”

Montgomery’s platoon leader is glad to have him around.

“He’s a squared-away squad leader, tactically sound and efficient, and that’s why he’s my dismounted squad leader,” said Army 2nd Lt. Andrew Short, a Charleston, W.Va., native. “When I need something done, he gets it done.”

Daily life likely will continue to be challenging and tiring for Montgomery and the Dragoons over the next 10 months. And despite what he may have told his young soldiers about staying focused on the mission and not to think about home, he’ll be the first to tell you he thinks a lot about those left behind.

“I want to see my daughter walk,” Montgomery said with a smile, allowing himself to think about Aubrey’s June 25 birthday, when he hopes to join her on his mid-tour leave.

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