SOLDIERS OF THE 586TH
DECEMBER 14, 1995
TOM BEARDEN: More than 150 soldiers of the 586th Combat Engineer Company departed for Bosnia late last night. They said their final good-byes at an emotional departure ceremony. The 586th is trained to build floating bridges which will allow American and allied forces to move across the devastated countryside. Capt. Gregory Gondeck is the company commander.
CAPT. GREGORY GONDECK, Company Commander: Most of the bridges in Bosnia have been destroyed or damaged. They've been warring there for four or five years now, and we have to get our troops into the country somehow, and more than likely, it'll be crossing our bridges and other bridges similar to ours.
TOM BEARDEN: The 586 doesn't quite know what to expect in Bosnia, except hardship.
CAPT. GREGORY GONDECK: I think the terrain is going to be a lot like probably the Northeast of the United States, the Boston area--a lot of hills, trees, cold in the winter, very damaged and dilapidated from the years of war they've been going through, a lot of gutted out buildings. It's going to be a serious site of dilapidation, and poor and hurting people. More than likely, it'll be difficult duty because I believe we'll be in tents for the first portion at least, and we'll keep upgrading our base camp and putting floors in, and the tents will be heated, and we'll have shower facilities there in tents, so it'll be difficult living. It will be living outside, outdoors, but in big tents with floors and heaters and shower facilities.
TOM BEARDEN: What do you think about your husband spending the next indefinite period of time in a tent?
SHERRY GONDECK: I don't know how they're going to do it, but, you know, they're trained for that and used to that kind of thing. You know, they do--they do training. They're out in the field several times during the year, so hopefully they've got the guts to stick it out.
SOLDIER: (instructing unit) Okay. The first one I'm going to give you is dressing an open abdominal wound.
TOM BEARDEN: The unit has spent the last several weeks in refresher training, polishing what the army calls common skills, which are anything but common for civilians.
SOLDIERS: If anybody's ever seen an open abdominal wound, it's pretty nasty. I mean, you're going to have, you're going to have the intestines strung out, and they're kind of hard to pick up.
TOM BEARDEN: They learned how to make litters out of blankets, how to examine a wounded comrade for bleeding or broken bones, how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and artificial respiration, vivid reminders that where they're going can be a very dangerous place.
STAFF SERGEANT MARK HOBBS: You go into a situation like that, you can almost expect stuff like that. Hopefully, it doesn't happen, but you can expect it. But we'd like to be prepared to make sure that if it comes across, that we do know how to take care of ourselves.
TOM BEARDEN: Staff Sergeant Mark Hobbs has six children. He hasn't seen very much of them in the last year and won't be seeing much of them for the next.
STAFF SERGEANT MARK HOBBS: I just come from Korea about a month and a half ago, and that was a year tour, so right back on the road again, and they haven't even come back down from home yet, so they're just going to stay at home, and that's in Cincinnati, Ohio, so they'll be at home while, while I'm gone.
TOM BEARDEN: Private Demetria Booker has only been on active duty for four months. She was surprised to find herself headed overseas so quickly.
PRIVATE DEMETRIA BOOKER: Yes, I was very surprised, very surprised. I was scared at first, but now I'm more content with it.
TOM BEARDEN: Why are you more content now?
PRIVATE DEMETRIA BOOKER: Because I know--I've really met some of the people that I'm goin' with, and I feel a little safer, like I have nothing to really worry about while I'm over there.
TOM BEARDEN: It's a lot tougher on those who have children. Capt. Gondeck tried to explain his departure to his three-year-old daughter when they were alone in the car last week.
CAPT. GREGORY GONDECK: At first, you know, I just told her that daddy's got to go away for a possible long time, and I tried to relate to her how long a year was, and what being away meant, that we wouldn't see each other and be able to talk to each other. She seems to be coping well right now, but the real test will be when I leave, because then I won't be there, and she'll really understand.
TOM BEARDEN: That has to be heartbreaking to have that conversation.
CAPT. GREGORY GONDECK: Yes. It was tough.
SHERRY GONDECK: I'm glad I wasn't there for that.
TOM BEARDEN: But you will be for the next year.
SHERRY GONDECK: Yes. And I stressed that to her last night when we got home, that mommy will never go away.
TOM BEARDEN: The army is prepared to help ease the problems of separation. The families who remain behind will have a lot of support. There are more than a dozen family service agencies that offer all kinds of assistance to those who might find themselves in trouble. And the unit has its own internal mechanisms to help people cope, like a semi-official telephone network that Mrs. Gondeck oversees which keeps tabs on families.
SHERRY GONDECK: The wives are set up to call certain people and then they call me, and then I call whoever, if we can't get it solved on our own.
TOM BEARDEN: What do you call about? What kind of concerns do you have?
SHERRY GONDECK: Umm, well, I'm sure they're all going to want to know how the soldiers are doing. Umm, they're obviously not going to be getting phone calls, very few letters probably, and if Greg can report back to the unit, then I can get that information and pass that on. They're going to want to know where to go for resources on post, helping out with--if they run into financial problems, or car problems while their spouse is gone, I can connect them with the appropriate agencies.
TOM BEARDEN: The men and women of the 586 say they're comforted by all the support available, but they still say they're facing a very lonely Christmas and a very long year away from home.