Delaware Guard leader reports on conditions and mission of 261st Signal Brigade
Major General Frank Vavala, the Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard, returned from a visit to Iraq on Saturday, March 21. He spent about three days visiting Smyrna’s 261st Signal Brigade, situated near Bagdad. He answered the following questions about the status of the brigade.
What was the purpose of your visit?
I went over to visit the troops, to assure myself that they are well cared for and have what they need to perform their mission. I appreciate the opportunity to see troops, shake their hands, give them a hug and thank them for their service.
So how are they doing?
They are being treated well. They eat in a mess hall that has just about everything conceivable: a line for sandwiches, a line for hot meals, a line for ice cream, you name it.
They also have great exercise facilities – eating that well you have to take advantage of them!
How about where they work and live?
Their working place is a former palace; marble floors, innate carved doors, sits on a man-made lake. They have a nice veranda. Looking out at this, I thought to myself, if you didn’t know it was a war-zone you would thinks it’s a resort.
Most of the Soldiers live in CHU’s, or containerized housing units. They are like shipping containers outfitted with amenities. Most of the folks use public latrines and showers.
Sounds like they have it pretty cushy.
Well, I won’t lie and say they are suffering, but they are working hard around the clock. Not to mention, no matter how “nice” you have it, they still sacrifice a lot by leaving. They are leaving their family, their job, and their community for a year. That is not an easy thing to do.
What are they doing; what is their mission over there?
They are running the communications network for the theater [Iraq]. They monitor the communications system. The control center they operate runs 24 hours a day, in two shifts. What struck me was the professionalism of their briefings and their shift changes. Young ones who have never done that sort of thing were impressive in their presentations. Their responsibility is secure and non-secure voice communications and electronic communications.
They are also running Bagdad Signal University. They bring other forces and Iraqis that want to develop in what our guys do best. They are training locals on what they do so that the Iraqis can eventually take over. In fact, I was there for a graduation and presented some of the Iraqi’s with their diplomas.
Are they having any problems?
Morale is exceptionally high, and that’s shown in the small amount of disciplinary actions they have had to do. Not only for them, but the two subordinate battalions under them too.
They have a very proactive chaplain that reaches out to the force. Even the chaplain interventions were low. Some marital problems manifest over there, but not as frequent as you might think.
But I do want to add they have all the equipment and support they need to do their mission. One of the reasons I went was, as a commander, to see that they had what they need, and I am happy.
Are they asking for anything from home?
They have been adopted by so many organizations; they are in want of nothing. Plenty of stuff is coming from well-meaning groups in the community.
But the separation from families is something that can’t be corrected, despite the technological advances. Most of the Soldiers are in daily contact with loved ones back home – by phone, email, even video – and that has it’s pluses and minuses.
What’s your final thought on your trip?
Leaving there, as a commander I felt good. They were well cared for, doing a vital mission, and moral was high.
The 261st Signal Brigade left Delaware in October 2008 and is scheduled to return home in September of this year. The deployed unit, based in Smyrna, is made up of 110 citizen-soldiers of the Delaware Army National Guard from across the state and region.