40th ID Division Headquarters See First Combat Mission in 60 years
A small group of Soldiers lined up in front of their formation, shifting anxiously after being called out by name. The guardsmen were scheduled to leave for Fort Hood in just over an hour, part of the 40th Infantry Division’s Headquarters Element about to deploy to Afghanistan. Their commander, Brig. Gen. John W. Lathrop, stood in front of them.
Lathrop called out to his first sergeant, “None of them know what’s happening, right?”
He began to joke with the Soldiers before addressing the crowd of friends and family. They had gathered Sept. 18 at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, to say goodbye to the guardsmen departing for the first phase of a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
Finally, Lathrop let the Soldiers in on the surprise, explaining that they all had birthdays this month, and he wanted to lead the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” before they left. At the end of the impromptu song, he invited their loved ones up to the front for another chance to share the moment together.
The brief celebration and deployment sendoff came at the end of an entire weekend of events centered on the 40th ID’s 100th anniversary. Many of the Soldiers said that the celebration puts the deployment in context as the next chapter in the division’s history.
“It’s the first time in in 60 years we’ll be going over there into a combat zone as a division headquarters,” 1st Sgt. Alfredo R. Juarez said. “It’s definitely a large impact. There’s a lot of history behind it.”
Juarez started as a private first class with the Division, and said it was very meaningful for him to be able to lead the element for this deployment.
“To be able to come back as a first sergeant and take the Soldiers forward is huge to me,” he said. “It’s definitely an honor, and definitely an honor to be part of the 40th ID at this time.”
The Soldiers had also been recognized with a deployment ceremony the previous day, which was attended by around 150 friends and family, and included a performance by the 40th ID Band.
The weekend’s celebrations had included a building dedication to a Korean War commander, a division change of command, and an anniversary ball. Throughout the events, attendees were given the chance to recognize and learn about the division’s 100-year history, and the great accomplishments of the past.
“It’s poignant,” said Spc. William D. Morgan, an information technology specialist and the only junior enlisted personnel deploying with the element. “It feels appropriate that we’re stepping up to deploy again, and doing our part.”
Sgt. 1st Class Yolanda Aispuro-Duarte, division personnel noncommissioned officer in charge, felt the same.
“It gave me a sense of pride and honor to be part of this organization,” Aispuro-Duarte said. “It’s a great group of people. Good Soldiers, and seasoned Soldiers at that.”
She said the group had been able to come together over the pre-mobilization training that took them back to basics and let them learn how to work as a unit.
Morgan had just graduated from Vanguard University with a degree in communication when he learned he’d be included in the deployment. He immediately began training in satellite communications before heading to the pre-mobilization training. He agreed that the training was effective at building cohesion, especially amongst a group that was heavy in senior leadership.
“I had a general next to me digging foxholes, and a full-bird colonel doing a room clearing,” he said.
Morgan said he felt a lot of pressure as the only junior enlisted member, but that this deployment was so important to him that he had reenlisted to be able to go on the mission.
“When I joined, I joined to deploy, to carry the torch,” he said. “This is the culmination of my six years in.”
The 40th ID has come a long way in its 100-year history. During the Second World War and the Korean War, most Soldiers still hadn’t gone through standardized basic training, said retired Maj. Gen. James Delk, Korean War veteran and former commander for the division. Delk was in leadership when the division began to change and formalize its standards. He said it was a matter of taking soldiering more seriously.
Delk had returned to the base for the anniversary celebration, and said he was astonished by the updated headquarters building, and proud to see how the division was preparing to set the stage for its next chapter.
“When you have a good leavening of Soldiers who’ve actually been there and done that, like this division has now, that’s all the difference in the world,” Delk said. “We have every reason to be very proud of our 40th.”
Col. Michael J. Leeney, the division chief of staff, echoed the sentiment.
“This is the first combat deployment of the division HQ since the Korean War,” Leeney said. “They are establishing another page in the history of the division. The deployment that’s going out right now will be issued an Afghanistan campaign streamer for the division headquarters. They are establishing a unique piece of history.”
While this deployment is certainly historic for the headquarters staff, it is also just one of several deployments scheduled for subordinate units in the 40th ID. Nearly 300 members of the 1-184th Infantry Regiment will soon leave to Jordan, and nearly 500 members of the 1-143rd Field Artillery Regiment will be heading to Qatar and Bahrain. In 2018, Guardsmen within the division will also ship to Kosovo, the Horn of Africa and Kuwait, as well as a second turn in Afghanistan for the headquarters element.
Juarez said he and his Soldiers were ready to get started, and wanted to make their families, the division, and the National Guard proud. He said he is looking forward to a successful mission with his troops.
“They’re going to go forward and do great things for this country, for this organization, and represent their families and the 40th ID well.”