By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – It is not uncommon to hear of deployments and heartwarming reunions as the war in Afghanistan rages on. It is easy though to forget about the faraway conflict because of our busy lives. For Amy Blanchard, an employee in the business office at Southborough Medical Center, the reality of war is something she lives with each and every day. Her husband, Gerry, is squad leader for “BAD 1-2” and has been stationed in Paktya Province, Gardez City, for almost a year.
Gerry has been in the Mass. National Guard for 21 years, earning the rank of sergeant. He joined the Army to get through college in 1991, the GI Bill paying for a large portion of his schooling. He has served in some capacity in the military ever since.
On a typical mission day, Gerry gets his six-man squad [three on Alpha team and three on Bravo team] out to the “motor pool” [the place where all armored trucks are parked] to get the vehicles ready before the soldiers are briefed on their mission. Then they conduct “commo checks” [a communications exercise conducted by one truck communicating via radio to all the other trucks to ensure everyone in the convoy can talk to each other] with other trucks. Next, Gerry inspects the weapon system on the truck and does individual equipment inspections on his “guys” before they load into the vehicle. Once in the trucks, they get into convoy order, and then head out. The squad conducts their mission and returns by the end of the day to fuel up and conduct maintenance on the trucks and weapons once again.
According to Gerry, “Everything within the border of Afghanistan is enemy lines. Terrorist groups do not have set boundaries. They move in small groups and set up roadside bombs, then wait until the next convoy rolls down that road. Many times, the Route Clearance Patrol will detect explosives, and take care of them, clearing the road for other convoys to travel on.”
Gerry is no stranger to dangerous missions. One time, he said, his truck was parked on a 100-pound bomb. Thinking they were parked in a bad spot on the road, he pulled the truck ahead. Later, while they were dismounted, a bomb was discovered in that very spot. Also, Gerry has taken pictures of and fingerprinted “triggermen” [gunmen] for a roadside bomb.
“The transition from civilian life to going active duty begins with “MOB” [mandatory mobilization training which must be completed before heading over seas],” Gerry said. “We had about 70 days of nonstop training to prepare us physically, mentally and emotionally. All of the gear we are bringing is shipped out well in advance. We were issued new gear, which is specific for Afghanistan. For the DE-MOB, we must figure out how to get our gear home, usually mailing home the items that do not have to be turned in.”
For Gerry, faith plays a huge role in his life, especially on the battlefield.
“I have to stay in the “word” so that I don’t get caught up in the drama that tends to happen on deployments,” he said.
He is comforted to know that his wife has an excellent support group through their church, Greater Grace Christian Fellowship, 187 Pleasant St., Marlborough.
Life lessons are plentiful on the battlefield. Gerry said that he has become much more disciplined – being punctual and always completing a task, no matter what happens. He said that he has learned to do more with less, and learned to always put the soldiers you are in charge of first. When at home running his remodeling business, Gerry said that he goes out of his way to hire people who have prior service experience knowing that they share the same attributes.
Being on active duty in the Army has changed the way that Gerry views his relationships.
“I don’t let things bother me that much. You can only change so many things, and sometimes you have to take a step back and look at a situation differently,” he said.
Unlike many who are currently serving, Gerry has the luxury of communicating with friends and family in the states. He has Internet and phones to use (provided they are not in a blackout), which allow him to talk with his family almost every day.
Gerry is due to be stateside no later than March 25, completing a year in Afghanistan.
(Photos/courtesy Gerry Blanchard)