Soldiers of 3rd Infantry Division board planes at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, Wednesday, March 2, 2022, as a part of a rapid deployment of 3,800 3rd ID soldiers as the US adds manpower to NATO’s Russian response. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/Coffee or Die Magazine.
HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. — As hundreds of soldiers here boarded a plane Wednesday, March 2, to deploy to Germany, they went down a line of fist-bumps — senior officers, the mayor of Savannah, and Luis Carreras. It was at least the 300th time Carreras has seen off a plane of deploying soldiers from this airfield, he told Coffee or Die Magazine. He stopped counting after 275.
As he taps each soldier’s fist, he tells them, “Take care of each other. Cover each other’s back.”
Carreras served two tours in Vietnam and his last military assignment was as airfield commander at Fort Stewart. Now he is the army reserve ambassador (emeritus) for Georgia.
“That’s the thing, you know?” Carreras said. “You’re a family. Take care of each other.”
Fort Stewart Chief of Staff Col. Ryan McCormack called Carreras’ presence at deployments “a tradition.” Carreras said the recent string of deployments to Europe in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine reminds him of Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, when he would be on the airfield from morning until night.
Around 180 soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team boarded planes Wednesday as part of a rapid deployment of 3,800 3rd ID soldiers as the US adds manpower to NATO’s Russian response. They’ll join elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps already deployed to the region.
The 3rd ID soldiers will join an estimated 14,000 US troops who have deployed to spots in Europe since the New Year as the US looks to bolster the presence of NATO surrounding Ukraine.
Most of the soldiers who left Fort Stewart Wednesday had just returned from a regular nine-month rotation to Korea.
First Sgt. Jeremy Aquaowo was the most senior enlisted soldier in the group. He said that as he looked over the group, he saw soldiers with “obviously a lot less experience — some people nervous, some people maybe a little anxious, uncertain.” But he remembers those feelings from all three of his previous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he told Coffee or Die Magazine.
With 22 years in the Army, Aquaowo said goodbye to his two daughters — Jalyn, 17, and Juliette, 5.
He said when his unit was alerted that a deployment might be coming, he held off on alerting his family.
“I don’t call them until I know, almost know, for sure, that we could potentially be moving out,” Aquaowo said.
Another deploying soldier was Staff Sgt. Kurtis Cox. His wife, Kerigan, just had the couple’s first baby, Kane Maverick, in June. Cox said he spent his last days before deploying in the hospital with his son, who was fighting an infection.
“We got that cleared up,” he said.
Capt. Troy Makulec said he was leaving behind his fiancée, but that the separation won’t be new. She lives halfway across the country, he said, “so, we’re used to it.”
When he looked around the room just minutes before receiving a briefing and boarding the plane, he said he saw “a lot of knowledge out around here, especially with some great mentors and great leaders.”
“We’ve done this before, the rotational brigade that goes to Europe, that’s what they do,” Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza, the 3rd ID commander, said. “They partner and train with our NATO allies. And that’s part of the reason that we have that rotation going.”
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Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.
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