After a few photos were taken of the unit assembled in neat rows on the lawn of the Santa Barbara Mission, soldiers from the U.S. Army 425th Civil Affairs Battalion-the Army Reserve unit based on upper State Street near Las Positas-climbed aboard buses, beginning a deployment that will last about a year.
Although they don’t know yet exactly where they’re going, the destination is assuredly somewhere in Iraq, where they will be assigned to assist other military units in the rebuilding of infrastructure in the war-torn country. The number of soldiers in the unit is classified for security reasons, but almost 75 percent of them have already been deployed to Iraq at least once, so this is nothing new for most of them.
The mood was light, and most of the soldiers were all smiles as they prepared for the group photo. “Hey, I’m sucking in my gut,” one soldier said to the laughter of his comrades. However, military decorum was observed as the unit’s colors were furled and placed in a desert camouflage sheath, and a mission statement was read by the battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Quincy Handy, who also expressed confidence in his charge. “I have a very experienced battalion,” he said. “A large number of soldiers have deployed more than twice. With that, I feel that we’ll have a very successful mission.”
The past couple of weeks have been a blur of training and marking-off of checklists according to some of the soldiers. At their farewell barbeque on August 15, Mayor Marty Blum showed up to wish them well and express appreciation for their sacrifices. “We’re just so glad to move on to the next station,” said Major Allan Dollison, who in his civilian life is a deputy district attorney in Humboldt County. Dollison said that more than half of the soldiers in the battalion have taken the Army’s formal four-week course in Arabic language and culture. The remainder, he said, took advantage of online courses and Rosetta Stone DVDs provided by the Army. Soldiers completed a number of other courses prior to their deployment.
The Iraq mission of civil affairs units, such as this one, is to carry out infrastructure improvements and the rebuilding process in general. Whether they are building schools, organizing medical supplies, or facilitating liaisons between Iraqi officials and U.S. military commanders, civil affairs soldiers are tasked with what Dollison calls “winning the hearts and minds” of the Iraqi populace. Since all of the soldiers in the 425th are also civilians, their problem-solving perspective can be different from that of an active duty soldier who spends all of his or her time in uniform. “In civil affairs, the average soldier is very intelligent,” said Col. Handy. “We emphasize the critical thought process. They think outside the box and consider different impacts.”
In a time when U.S. troops are widely deployed, multiple deployments for reservists and National Guards are a fact of life. This will be the second deployment in two years for Dollison. The 425th’s Command Sergeant Major Stephen Johnson-their most senior enlisted soldier-has been home with his family for nine months since 2005 due to various training and deployment requirements. He returned from his last deployment to Iraq in March. Not everyone has to go, however. “There were a number of names that popped up on the battle roster that had legitimate reasons for not going, so they’re not going,” said Dollison. “We want people there who want to be there.”