Serving in the Kentucky Army National Guard, Nicholasville's Chris Campbell, a master sergeant, and Catherine Corson, a sergeant first class, understand what it means to sacrifice.
“You see the posts on Facebook that say, “Thank you for your service” or “Thank you for your sacrifice,” but members of the military generally have a pretty good idea of what they are getting into,” Campbell said. “I think the biggest service and sacrifice is on the part of families. That’s the part that really gets to me more than anything else, (and) that’s to see my son not want to talk to me on (Skype) because he’s missing me. That was difficult.”
With his voice quivering, Campbell, 42, who returned stateside from a year long tour in Afghanistan, spoke from the heart.
A single mother of three, Corson, 35, echoed Campbell’s thoughts on the sacrifice on family.
“On one hand, it’s very rewarding — we actually do a lot of good things there — it does take a toll on your family,” she said. “Your kids grow up virtually overnight, it feels like. There are so many changes. When I left, I had a 4-year-old, a 7-year-old and a 13-year-old. And when I come back, all of the sudden I have a high-schooler, a third-grader and a kindergartner.”
Corson’s former husband is a military member, which makes the adjustment for her three children — two boys and a daughter — that much harder.
“So it’s very hard to have dual military parents for a child,” Corson said. “Fortunately for us, they put us on separate deployment schedules and they worked with us very well, and we’re in the same unit, and it happens to be that we’re great friends.”
Campbell and Corson are members of the Kentucky National Guard ADT IV unit based out of Frankfort, and once deployed to Afghanistan, the mission was to help that nation solidify its economy.
“We were an agribusiness development team,” Campbell said. “The people in Afghanistan know how to grow things; that’s not an issue. What they need is they need help getting that agricultural knowledge translated into an economy — in other words, something that they can use to produce money, sustain themselves and not be reliant on the Taliban.”
Corson said one of the most difficult aspects of the deployment was simply helping Afghanistan’s people with their irrigation issues.
“That’s the shortfall that they have — their irrigation,” Corson said.
Another shortcoming the Afghan people have is knowledge passed down from generation to generation, Corson said.
“It’s a war-torn area,” she said. “We learn from our grandfathers who learned from their grandfathers. Well, their grandfathers were killed at such a young age, they don’t have that.”
While their mission was secondary to active battle fronts, the danger was always there, Campbell said.
“I didn’t get fired at directly. I kid everybody and tell them it was because of my awesome mustache, but quite honestly, I had people praying for me here, and that was why I didn’t get shot at,” he said.
Campbell recalled once when he and another person went to help an Afghan man with his watermelon crop that was suffering disease. After helping the man, Campbell learned a stark truth about the area he was in.
“Come to find out later, we had taken soil samples in an IED belt; it was a place they had found IEDs (improvised explosive devices) laying around,” he said. “The risk is always there.”
Campbell said the chilling reality of working in a combat zone was many times a glance upward at his base.
“It was tough and there are trials that you go through, but honestly, I was lucky. There were more than 26 people in the 82nd Airborne that were there for six months during the summer — during the fighting season. There were over 26 people that lost their lives there,” he said. “Every day we watched the choppers come in and out, and 42 people lost limbs out of that group.”
Corson said intelligence-gathering also helped curb the potential dangers.