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Serving at home and abroad

By Steve Ranson Nevada News Group

Army couple juggled family with their overseas deployments

With their combined military careers, Harry and Helena Schroeder spent almost a half century wearing the uniform for their country.

For the Virginia City Highland residents, the two Army veterans each have deployed twice overseas as part of the country’s Global War on Terrorism. Harry also deployed to Bosnia in the 1990s while surviving in the Army.

Harry Schroeder, a 1993 graduate from Reno’s Hug High School, spent 21 years in the military, first for 10 years in the regular Army and then 10 as an AGR (Active Guard Reserve) with the Nevada Army National Guard. Helena followed  a similar path but joined the U.S. Air Force in 1992 for two years and later transitioned to the Nevada Army National Guard for 20 years before retiring this year.

Harry received his initial training as cavalry scout and then in motor transportation, while Helena, who grew up in Lockhart, Texas, south of Austin, spent most of her Nevada Guard career as a military policewoman. Two years after Harry left the active Army and became a guardsman, he was on his way to Iraq.

“We were in the theater for 12 months, and before that three months at Fort Bliss (Teas),” said Harry, adding the unit, which included soldiers from different parts of Nevada, deployed from Reno. “I was a platoon sergeant with the 593rd Transportation Company.”

Harry, who also deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 with the 593rd, said the mission in Iraq differed. Army trucks left for 14 to 21-day assignments in Iraq to transport supplies or equipment or perform convoy security for the company’s heading out.

“Usually, in Afghanistan, the trucks went out for a day,” Harry said.

For the duration of his deployment to Afghanistan, Harry served as the unit’s first sergeant. He said the supporting headquarters from the 10th Mountain  Division located at Bagram Air Field took care of the subordinate units, including the 593rd stationed at Camp Phoenix near Kabul. Harry said the 593rd was the only company located away from Bagram.

“They were constantly were coming down to check on us,” the first sergeant said of the command staff.

Two years before Harry left for his second Nevada Guard deployment, Helena, now a member of the 137th Military Police Co., in Reno, began a one-year mission beginning in April 2010 to Mazar-i-Sharef, Afghanistan, about 200 miles northeast of Kabul.

“The MPs were assigned to a camp about near Mazar-i-Sharef,” she said. “We worked with the Afghanistan police at a compound attached to the camp. We set up checkpoints, were gate guards and made sure they (Afghan police) were doing the right thing. We were shadowing them.”

On her second deployment to Kuwait, she belonged to the 485th Military Police Co., that was stationed in Reno. The unit originally formed in 2007 in Fallon.

“We worked customs on the coast, and worked at airports taking care of soldiers returning to the states,” she said.

Helena said she enjoyed the second deployment better because she traveled out of country to Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. She added other countries had U.S. military personnel who needed to clear customs to return home.

What makes this couple unique, though, is how they balanced two of their overseas deployments with a toddler at home. Harry remembers all too well, especially when he left for Afghanistan. Their daughter, Abbi, was only 10 days old.

“It was tough for me to leave a new baby,” Harry reflected

With the advanced technology, however, Harry talked and saw Helena and Abbi via Skype from Camp Phoenix. During that time, Harry said he had a good support system, but he still found it difficult to be 9,000 miles away. Likewise, Helena kept her cellphone by her side everywhere she went back in Reno.

“I stayed in touch with Harry as well,” she said. “I would not go anywhere without my phone. I was afraid to miss a phone call.”

Furthermore, Harry’s parents lived in the Reno area and they helped her.

Harry had a taste of being the stay-at-home parent when Helena deployed to Kuwait. He discovered how difficult it was to balance job and parenting responsibilities.

“I think it’s harder to be the one left behind,” Harry said.

When Helena deployed, Abbi was 4 years old, which made it easier. The Storey County Sheriff’s Office hired Harry as a deputy before he retired from the military in August 2015. He then attended his Nevada Peace Officers and Standard Training (POST) before putting on a different uniform after graduation. Because of Harry’s schedule with the Storey County, he would work four days and then take three off. He worked with his parents where they would watch Abbi during his work days, and then Harry would take Abbi home for the next three days. Their lives apart became more stressful, though, when Harry’s stepfather died. Helena’s command worked with her, and she was able to return home on leave for a short time.

Looking back at their military careers, the Schroeders said they have no regrets.

“I’m happy where I am in life,” Harry said. “Every decision in life has led to this. I loved my time in the Army and will always miss that camaraderie.”

Helena recently retired from the Nevada Army National Guard, but she currently works as a survivor outreach coordinator with the Guard at its Plumb Lane building in Reno. Likewise, Helena said she has no regrets  to wear the military uniform and serve her country. As a woman, Helena said she set an example for others, and both she and Harry try to set the right example for Abbi, who’s now 8 years old.

“It’s a privilege to be able to do it,” she said.