Home for the Holidays

Soldier surprises family for Thanksgiving

Thomas Wilson

   When Rick Largent was awakened to the sound of a guitar playing at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, he wasn't sure if he was having a dream or if someone had broken into his home.
   He arose from bed and wandered into his living room. Seated by the fireplace was his Army Reservist son, Kermit, home for the first time since being deployed to East Africa this summer to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
   Thanksgiving went from a noun to a verb.
   "I didn't know he was coming," said Rick. "He was sitting on the fireplace playing the guitar. It tickled me to death."
   Both father and son are members of the Virginia Army National Guard's 463rd Combat Engineering Battalion and Service Company based in Wheeling, West Va., with a detachment in Marion, Va. It was the first time Rick had seen his son since he departed the country in June. After being activated for duty in March, Kermit trained for three months at Fort Dix, N.J., before rotating to the East African nation of Djibouti. He joined the unit in 1997 to earn money for college.
   "I was in for six years, and then we joined together," said Rick who has served a total of 12 years with the 463rd.
   A 1997 graduate of Hampton High School, Kermit, 24, was one of 50 members of the company activated for duty in March. The detachment has been in the nation of Djibouti since June.
   The 463rd is a combat heavy unit, comprised of earthmovers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, masons, and mechanics. Kermit's detachment has spent its time building roads and schools for Djibouti's population under a humanitarian mission.
   "They formed a detachment to send us over," said Kermit. "They've helped build schools and we are helping build roads to provide easier access."
   Like many National Guard and Reserve members, activation was based on skill sets. Kermit specializes in maintenance for mechanical engineering for heavy combat artillery. His main operation of service is repairing Humvees and other light-wheeled vehicles used at the base camp.
   "The base camp is the hub going to and away from the Iraqi theater," said Kermit. "We are supporting the guys who go over there."
   Djibouit lies on the Gulf of Aden near Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The country's per capita annual income of $1,300 makes it one of the poorest nations in the world, according to the Central Intelligence Agency's World Fact Book of 2003.
   The country's largest religious affiliation is Muslim.
   Kermit said the base camp accommodated many soldiers moving in and out of the Iraqi theater of war since combat started. Unlike soldiers in the combat theater of Iraq, U.S. troops met with Djibouti residents regularly. Kermit said the detachment was presently working directly with six Djibouti citizens on construction projects around the country.
   While some anti-American sentiment could be detected, Kermit said most of the nation's citizenry were glad to see the soldiers and receive assistance.
   "Most people want us there because they know we are helping them," he said.
   The call-up took Kermit out of college at East Tennessee State University where he is majoring in computer science. After losing at least three semesters, Kermit expects to delay his graduation by at least two more years.
   Rick Largent handles a significant level of maintenance at his full-time job at the Carter County Courthouse and Courthouse Annex buildings. Kermit is the second oldest of Largent's three children including brother Joshua and sister Sharon Melton. Joshua is studying to be an X-ray technician while Sharon is a teacher at Tennessee High School in Bristol.
   When Rick heard his son had been activated, he didn't hesitate to volunteer for duty.
   "I volunteered to go with him, but they wouldn't let me," said Rick.
   The U.S. Department of Defense reported Wednesday that more than 163,000 National Guard and Reserve members are on active duty including units and individual augmentees. Of that number, the Army National Guard and Army Reserve comprise more than 132,000 personnel.
   DoD has laid plans to move roughly 85,000 combat personnel of active units and three Guard combat brigades to prepare for the second rotation of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF-2). Through Wednesday, the total Guard and Reserve personnel alerted for OIF-2 stood at 66,531, according to DoD.
   Kermit is scheduled to return to Africa next Sunday. He will remain on active duty through March 2004. As troop rotations continue well into 2004, a scenario the Largent family could face is Kermit returning home and Rick being rotated overseas to join the 463rd.
   Most members of the detachment who rotated home for Thanksgiving were from the Marion area. While watching men and machines move through East Africa to and from war, Kermit said the support units were fully committed to their mission.
   "I'm there to do whatever I can do to help and do whatever I can do to make things better for those guys over there," Kermit said. "If they want to extend me three more months, I'm ready."