By Annette Hinkle
Sergeant First Class Russ Littel a member of the 136th MEB (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) Texas National Guard which deployed as Task Force Centurion to Afghanistan and has just completed a nine-month mission. Littel is the husband of Sag Harbor native Kate Deyermond, and last Wednesday, was welcomed with a procession down Main Street in Sag Harbor.
Your daughter, Bethany, was just two when you left for Afghanistan last September. How difficult is it to be away from your child when she is so young?
In my normal full time civilian job, I travel half the time. A week after she was born I had to go to a base. I’ve been gone three quarters of Bethany’s life at this time. Thank goodness for Skype and Facebook. There’s a 10 hour difference, so I’d Skye at 5 or 6 on Saturday or Sunday which is 9 or 10 a.m. for Kate and little Bethany.
That helped, but it was tough. I just don’t know how people volunteer to do that.
Your mission was described as including civil-military operation and garrison support. So what was your role in Afghanistan?
Our role was everything — we ran security, were in charge of fuel, making sure everyone was fed. My job was as the senior food advisor for all of Kabul base cluster. I was the senior food advisor. I didn’t necessarily cook, but I’m in charge of the contracts.
The government has a contract with operators, the core’s job is to make sure they’re sticking to it. Kind of like a comptroller for food service. I was also basically the general’s personal chef. Any events he put on — and we had a lot of officials come onto post, they’d say, “Hey, Littel, we need a lunch in General Hall’s office for four in a couple days.”
When we got awarded our medals, General Hall said, “Thanks for making me look good.”
The other part of our job was to close and transfer three camps while we were there. We transferred them to the Afghan National Army. We had a base closure team two weeks in advance to turn over the camp to the Afghan. Two weeks prior, laundry, water contracts, dining all shuts off. But how do you feed the guys? That’s when I was major hands on — expeditionary feeding.
What were your impressions of the situation in Afghanistan?
Everybody’s situation is different. It’s a mess. We’re trying to help win hearts and minds.
Are we getting there?
Yes, I think so. The military forces, the police forces, we’re sending the best guys out there to train these guys [the Afghans] and getting them equipment, whether we give it to them or buy it.
There are also a lot of coalition forces, 35 or 40 countries that are part of NATO and the UN all training these guys. I think we’re definitely making a difference. We were opening schools, our general would have meetings every week with the mayor of Kabul. We were able to weed out a lot of corruption — the supposed good guys.
You’re referring to “green on blue” attacks in which presumed friendly forces turn and pull off an insider attack. Was that a big threat?
The threat in our area was all IEDs, but basically vehicle borne — VBIED — car bombs, bomb vests, not as much small arms fire because we were in populated area and once you fire one mortar or even a gun, our weapon and radar systems will pinpoint where you’re at and tell a patriot or artillery battery.
There were a lot of indirect hits, a lot at police headquarters. We left the day before the airport got hit. They figured out how to infiltrate by bringing the vest through and then putting it on. Then there was a four or five hour firefight.
At Camp Phoenix, where we were, you’d get a lot of trucks. Vehicle bombs are a big thing. That’s what you’re really concerned about. And just driving from camp to camp, you stick out — you could distinguish an American vehicle.
Tell me about being out on the streets of Kabul
You’re not just concerned about attacks, but also traffic. This wasn’t Iraq where we owned the highway. It’s not like that in Kabul. You had to abide by the rules. If we get in an accident, we had to get out and do paperwork.
The unnerving part is, you get one vehicle and two civilians. All of a sudden, in five minutes there were triple the number of people. They’re not necessarily there to hurt us, but nosy, rubber necking, no different than here.
Suddenly you’re outnumbered, and still looking for a car that can come behind you and do whatever.
Some of that must still be with you.
For me some of it’s still there — nervousness. I’ve been putting my uniform on for parades, and thinking, “Where’s my weapon?” We carried pistol and rifles, where’s my side arm? We also had a policy of no wedding rings, because we didn’t want them to get caught on equipment. I’m like, “Oh jeez, I have my wedding ring on.”
So Kate must be glad you’re home.
Kate is kind of relieved. Any military spouse, especially with a child, you have to have your stuff together. Kate’s regimented because of her mother [Bethany Deyermond]. We went to a B&B last week and let Kate lay in a hammock for two hours. It helps her coming here, because of [her parents] Ed and Bethany.
And though it you’re from Wisconsin, I think you’re a local too now.
Kate’s family is my family and this town is my town. From being on the rifle squad for the Memorial Day Parade — that’s a big deal and an honor — and for me to speak last year was awesome. I’ll be here every year from now on for Memorial Day. I love it.
That was quite a procession that brought you down Main Street last Wednesday.
The family can make as big or little of a deal as they want. Everyone deserves this, you can make it happen. Bethany [Deyermond] likes the fanfare and that’s what makes her feel special. That’s closure for her and that’s her way and our way of thanking the community for the lights in the windows.
So other than your daughter, what else has changed since you’ve been away?
Now Kate and Bethany are eating all organic. Which I think is great. We also have a cat now — its name is Ackerly.