Evangeline Parish Clerk of Court Randy Deshotel (right) welcomes home his former employee Isac Calderon Sierra (center) from nine months overseas in Kuwait. Sierra was one of hundreds who returned to the National Guard Barracks in Bunkie last Saturday, and is pictured with his father Arturo and brother Arturo, Jr. Not pictured is his mother Elivira. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
Through the Kuwaiti sands of time
Every day, in almost every corner of the globe, members of the United States Armed Forces are risking their lives to keep their country safe and to protect the freedoms of the country’s citizens. Behind the scenes; however, are other service members who work to support these fighting men and women to make sure that they have all the supplies necessary to accomplish their missions.
More than 160 National Guard soldiers from Evangeline and surrounding parishes were deployed over the last nine months in Kuwait as part of the 1086th Transportation Company in support of Operations Spartan Shield and Inherent Resolve. These operations were part of the larger Operation Enduring Freedom.
These 160-plus soldiers returned to the armory in Bunkie Saturday and were welcomed by swarms of family members. Two members of this company were Isac Calderon Sierra and Murphy Hall.
“I felt compelled to go,” Sierra stated. “It was like this was something I wanted to do because I’ve never travelled outside the Americas before.”
The main thing for Hall was being able to take care of the rest of the soldiers in his company. “Just being able to take care of them was mainly what I liked about it the most,” he stated. “If I could take care of all 163, I felt like I was doing my job.”
Upon Sierra and Hall’s arrival back to Ville Platte, they shared their experiences from being away for the year. Some of the experiences were similar for both Guardsmen, while some differences stuck out.
Before going to Kuwait, the 1086th underwent mobilization training for three months at Fort Hood in Texas. “We trained to go overseas to go in these areas of the world,” Sierra said. “We did a bunch of little things that we needed to accomplish before we got there. The Army gave us a list of things we had to complete, and we had to run through them within the time allotted that they gave us. Then, when we were done with that, we actually went overseas.”
As Hall pointed out, “Training was pretty good. It was preparing us for overseas. It was a little long, but it was good training. Fort Hood; though, is a place that you don’t want to be too long, but the facility is pretty good. They make sure you have everything that you need in order to conduct training.”
When the 1086th reached Kuwait, the biggest thing it had to deal with was the weather. “We originally got there in the middle of July, which was the middle of the summer,” Sierra said. “It was already hot at 4:00 in the morning. It was triple digits while it was still dark outside. It’s a dry heat, but it didn’t matter because it was still really hot. We did have a few heat casualties because of the temperature.”
“Once it hit about October, that’s when the temperature started lowering,” Sierra continued. “It started to get to about 90 degrees in the day, and, at night, it would drop to about 50 degrees. In the winter months, it actually did rain for a couple of minutes, then it would get humid. The humidity would come in, but the temperature was low by that time.”
Besides the heat, the company had to put up with sandstorms and times when it was raining mud. Hall explained “raining mud” as times when it would rain during the sandstorms. “It’s just mud dropping on you,” he said.
The 1086th spent most of its time at Camp Arab John which is about 45 minutes from the capital city of Kuwait City and is near the Saudi Arabian border. According to Hall, the countryside is all desert. “You don’t see any green grass around there.”
Sierra described the country as being “all desert except there are a few city parts that have vegetation that was planted on the side of the interstates to keep sand from going on the roads.” He added, “There are a lot of date groves, and they have the beach on the coast of the Persian Gulf. It’s pretty nice.”
Hall added, “It’s fast driving over there among the civilians. The roads are probably the most dangerous thing around there. But, the country is pretty nice.”
As Sierra pointed out, the experience in Kuwait provided opportunities that he would not have other wise experienced like seeing camels. “There’s a lot of Bedouin tribes in Kuwait, and they do a lot of caravans with camels,” he said. “They herd their camels and sheep. A few times, we had to stop in the middle of the road just to let the camels pass in front of us and go about their way.”
When it came to camels, Hall said, “Some of the soldiers were fascinated by the camels on the side of the road. That’s mainly it. There’s not much else in Kuwait.”
“The culture was another thing that stood out to me,” Sierra continued. “The Western culture is different compared to what it is in Kuwait because it’s mostly Islam. Everything I saw about the culture on TV was pretty much all biased, so having a first hand experience was pretty nice. The locals are real nice. If they didn’t speak English, you could still get the gist of it. They were really friendly. My biggest regret would be not eating enough of the local food because they really have good food.”
As far as the people and the food went, Hall said, “Some of the people didn’t say much, but there are a lot of friendly people around there. We didn’t have any hostile folks that we encountered.”
“The food is not like over here,” he added. “There were no squirrel sauces or anything like that. One of the things that I probably missed the most was the good eating that is around here.”
While in Kuwait, the 1086th provided supply missions to the Army that was located in other parts of the Middle East such as Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. “We would load the supplies onto our trucks and drive them wherever the Army needed,” commented Sierra. “We also transported military vehicles like Humvees and even Abrams tanks. We transported anything they needed.”
Hall described what normal missions were like. “In normal missions, we were transporting all classes of supply to other countries,” he stated. “Some of the missions were pretty lengthy depending on the Kuwaiti escorts because they had to escort us everywhere being that the equipment was oversized.”
“It was pretty laid back for the most part,” he continued. “It wasn’t anything too stressful. We mainly supported fights that were going on in other countries.”
While they experienced some differences while in Kuwait, one thing that is similar is that both Sierra and Hall joined the National Guard for financial assistance to be able to attend college.
Sierra, who joined about two years ago, stated that he originally had no plans on joining the Armed Forces while still attending Ville Platte High School. “I took the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test), but I didn’t really know what it meant, he said. “I got a pretty high score on it, and I had that in the back of my mind as a Plan B just in case.”
“As I went on and got to my senior year,” he continued, “the realization hit me that I was about to be thrown into the real world and pretty much fend for myself. I had to have some type of structure and some type of safety cushion.”
Being that he was looking for structure, Sierra joined the National Guard, which also provided financial assistance being that TOPS was cut at the same time. “Without that help, it really pushed me even further to join the Guard,” he said. “I joined the Guard for academics and for tuition exemption.”
He also joined the Guard because he is part of a military family. “My sister was in the Army, and my brother-in-law currently is in the Army, so I decided to continue that tradition.”
Hall, who is originally from Ville Platte, signed up for the National Guard during his junior year at Mamou High School in 2003. “They came and sweet talked me into free college and getting a check every month,” he explained. “They got me with that one. I joined when I was in the 11th grade and have been in 15 years.”
He previously did convoy security as part of the National Guard’s presence in Afghanistan years ago. He explained that Afghanistan was desert like Kuwait, but “the threat level was a big difference.”
While still being a few years into the Guard, Sierra added, “I have four more years in my first contract, but I plan on going a little bit more. I plan on signing up a few more times and on doing my 20 years. I just have to see how it goes.”
He plans on attending LSU-E in the fall then transferring to LSU.
“I may just do my 20 years,” Hall said. “It depends on how these next five years go, where I’m at in life, and what role I play with the Guard.”
Currently, Hall is a state trooper for Troop D in Lake Charles. “I really enjoy it, and I really enjoy patrolling out there,” he expressed. “I wouldn’t want anything else right now.”
Before serving Troop D, Hall started out in law enforcement with the Ville Platte Police Department before becoming a sergeant with the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office. “Law enforcement and the National Guard tie into each other neatly,” he said. “Both are pretty much watching out for yourself and those around you that you work with. So, it’s like one makes you better for the other one.”
For Hall, he is proud that he can serve his country as part of the National Guard. “Everybody can’t do it,” he said. “Some people want to do it and can’t do it, but I can do it and am willing to do it. I enjoy it.”
Sierra went on to say that he would do the experience in Kuwait over again. “I would still do it even if it wasn’t my choice,” he concluded, “especially since this country has given me a lot. This country has given me an education, a home, and all the opportunities. So, I feel like I can repay my debt by serving in the Armed Forces and especially overseas.”