Local Nevada Guard soldiers perform different tasks in Afghanistan
Editor’s note: This article introduces Nevada Army National Guard soldiers who are deployed to Afghanistan and have not been profiled in previous articles.
Sgt. Jason Coleman, a seven-year member of the Nevada Army National Guard, has seen Afghanistan extensively from the air.
As a crew chief on board a Chinook helicopter from Bravo Company, 189th General Support Aviation Battalion, he has flown more than 300 hours since the unit arrived in the country last spring. In addition to his crew chief position, Coleman also serves as the noncommissioned officer in charge of supply (NCOIC) at Forward Operating Base Shank.
“I’m the supply manager over two soldiers,” he said. “The troops will have anything they need if we can get it.”
Although his time is split on the ground and air, the 2001 Carson High School graduate said he has enjoyed the missions to other bases.
“It’s satisfying not staying on the FOB but getting up and seeing the country and knowing we are helping other soldiers,” he added.
He said the other FOBs tend to be some of the dustiest places in the country, but the helicopter crew has completed several good sling loads of equipment and supplies to those locations. Although Coleman is used to flying over eastern Afghanistan, his initial missions during the spring caused him some angst.
“The first time doing the night mission, I had anxiety doing it, then I got used to it,” he added.
Coleman, a married father of three children, said he enjoys working for the Nevada Army National Guard. He said the Guard provides a family atmosphere among the soldiers.
Sgt. John Hefner Jr. grew up in Douglas County and graduated from Douglas High in 2006.
His father retired more than four years ago as a command sergeant major in the Nevada Army National Guard.
“I’ve been in the Guard since 2005 when I was 17,” Hefner said.
This is Hefner’s first overseas deployment where he serves as a helicopter mechanic and night supervisor. When he first learned of the deployment, Hefner said his wife “freaked out” but now their relationship is stronger; however, his father was more apprehensive.
“He texts and emails me every day, and he gave me a Bible before I left,” Hefner said. “My mother keeps everything to herself. My grandma did not want me to come over.”
As the company’s deployment begins to wind down, he said his family has grown more supportive of his deployment. For Hefner, though, he has enjoyed his role with the company.
Initially, Hefner wanted to fly in Chinooks when he enlisted in the Guard.
“It was my dream since I was a little kid,” he recounted. “I saw a Chinook and wanted to be a flight engineer.”
Unfortunately, Hefner’s world crashed down on him. He had surgery several years ago to relieve pressure inside his skull. Although he returned to flying and logged about 60 hours over Northern Nevada before the unit received additional training at Fort Hood, Texas, before deployment, he later learned he would not be able to fly. The Army still had concerns about his safety while flying.
In addition to the support he receives from his family, Hefner said others also have been kind to him during his time away from Nevada. He said Marion Callison and her family adopted him as a soldier and have been sending him food and letters. Hefner said the family’s kindness has been “great.”
A guardsman since 2006, Sgt. Thomas Kiernan of Dayton originally joined the U.S. Navy before leaving the service in 2002. Because he missed the camaraderie of the military, he enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard. While in Afghanistan with the aviation company, Kiernan serves as a crew chief and flight engineer and assists with sling-load missions.
He said both the missions have been going well out of FOB Shank and the stay has been productive considering the time spent away from home.
“It has been good with the access back home,” Kiernan said, referring to the Internet and Skype.
Kiernan, though, said he appreciates the support offered from the people in Dayton. His daughter’s fifth-grade class sent care packages and food to Kiernan and the soldiers in mid-November
Teachers Renae Ellis and Gina Musselman enclosed a letter to thank all the soldiers for their service. They also mentioned that when the soldiers return home, their students would love to meet then and ask questions of their time spent in Afghanistan.
“I have received a couple of care packages early (in the deployment), and my daughter is supportive of me being here,” he said. “That’s a high point of being at Shank.”
Spc. Kyle Freitas enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard more than two years ago to learn job skills. With all of his time spent in the 593rd Transportation Company at Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, he drives truck extensively and also works the administration side with recruiters.
Freitas, who is married with two little girls, lives in Gardnerville and graduated in 2004 from Douglas High School. His parents now live in Carson City.
Although separation from family has been difficult, Freitas said he has a purpose being in Afghanistan.
“Yes, it’s hard being away, but the Lord definitely put me here for a reason,” he said.
Overall, the family support system has worked well, said Freitas, and his mother calls his wife daily. His family also supports his overseas mission.
“I love the deployment because it’s been a good opportunity for me to grow spiritually,” he pointed out. “It revealed my true purpose in life.”
Freitas, though, is one of those Nevada guardsmen who spends much time outside the walled, barbed-wire fence of Camp Phoenix.
“Here, I am a convoy truck driver, and we go out quite a bit,” he said.
When he returns to Nevada after the deployment, he said he will look for full-time employment.
Freitas considers himself as a shoulder for others to lean on. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Freitas considers himself as an influence to those who may be struggling.
“My purpose is to be with those in need,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pfc. Jessica Weaver, a 2008 Douglas High School graduate, works in administration for the 593rd Transportation Company. Because of her assignment, Weaver never leaves the base unless it is a rare trip to Bagram Air Field north of Kabul or riding in a convoy in the capital district.
Weaver initially joined the Nevada Army National Guard in 2010 and completed both her basic and advanced training before the company left for Afghanistan. She also wanted to deploy. During her stay in Afghanistan, Weaver has relied on the friendship of Sgt. Rhonda Simmons, who has an office across the hall.
“It’s nice having Sgt. Simmons around,” Weaver said. “Friends are good because of the bonds you make.”
Ironically, Weaver recently learned of a childhood friend who is now in Kabul on a fellowship teaching debate to Afghan university students.
Rachel Mills, who lived in Gardnerville until her family moved to Fallon, attended elementary school with Weaver, but after she moved to the Lahontan Valley, both girls lost contact with one another.
Since they have resurrected their friendship, Weaver said they have been emailing each other. Although it may be impossible to arrange a rendezvous because of security, they, nevertheless, would like to see each other before they leave Kabul.
Also in the same country are high school buddies Chief Warrant Officer 5 Dan Walters and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Wolfe, both 1984 graduates of Douglas High School.
They had the opportunity in mid-November to see each other for the first time since they both deployed when two Chinooks from FOB Shank brought supplies to Camp Phoenix. Walters was one of the pilots ferrying equipment and passengers to the base outside of Kabul. Wolfe said FOB Shank had the tires he needed, a lucky break considering it take as long as six weeks to receive tires from the United States.
Both friends, though, spent some time together at Camp Phoenix talking about their families and life in the war zone before Walters and his crew returned to Shank.
“We grew up together, joined the Army together,” Wolfe recollected. “He went into the Nevada Guard, and I went active Army.”
Before Walters left on his deployment last spring, Wolfe contacted his longtime friend and wished him success.
When Wolfe came off active duty, he joined the Nevada Army National Guard and worked up the ranks. He served in the 150th Maintenance Company and the 422nd Signal Battalion and eventually became a full-time technician in 1993.
“I went through the enlisted ranks to sergeant first class, but then I became a warrant officer in 1998,” he said.
For this deployment he volunteered and now supervises the 59erd Transportation Company’s maintenance section. Wolfe knows his mechanics have a critical job.
“It’s dangerous on the streets,” he said of the numerous convoys that operate out of Camp Phoenix into the Kabul region. “We spend so much time on maintenance that we don’t want anything breaking down. Knock on wood, everyone has come back.”
Any time, though, the MRAPS (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) or other trucks are not running because of no assigned mission, Wolfe said his maintenance section checks out each vehicle and also spends time re-examining the electrical systems.