Rear Detachments Serve Vital Wartime Role
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 22, 2004 Army Lt. Col. Ed Dorman, deputy commander for the 507th Corps Support Group, admits he "broke the heart" of one of his best young officers when he told him he would be staying behind at Fort Bragg, N.C., when the unit deployed to Southwest Asia.
"I didn't want to stay back. I wanted to be on the forefront of the effort," acknowledged Capt. Michael Kukiela. Dorman said Kukiela had performed spectacularly during a previous deployment to Afghanistan.
"Everybody wants to deploy," said Col. Greg Johansen, operations officer for the 1st Corps Support Command. "But it's just as important to have the strongest individual back in the rear."
Kukiela said he never imagined that his experience as commander for the 1st Corps Support Command's 186th Rear Detachment would be among the most rewarding of his career. "It's one of the most challenging jobs I've ever had in terms of the challenge and workload," he said.
With so much attention focused on units deploying into harm's way, many people don't realize that these units leave behind a skeletal staff at their home installation.
These troops carry out a wide range of missions. They pick up the day-to-day workload typically performed by the deployed unit and provide home-station support for the unit. At the same time, they carry out what Johansen calls one of the most important rear detachment duties, serving as a vital communications link between the deployed unit and family members.
The 57 members of the 186th Rear Detachment work at a frenetic pace to keep up with their workload. Pvt. William Ritchey and Pfc. Jose Mercado spend long hours at the motor pool, providing scheduled maintenance and cleanup on vehicles. Spc. Christine Sims serves as training noncommissioned officer for the detachment, ensuring that its soldiers keep their skills sharp while their colleagues are deployed.
Sgt. 1st Class Otis Anthony, first sergeant for the detachment, works with Sims to get unit members who did not deploy due to medical, legal or other reasons ready to deploy as their situations change. They ensure that soldiers report to scheduled medical or legal appointments and keep up their physical training regimens.
At the same time, the unit picked up a variety of duties when the 82nd Airborne Division deployed, from casualty assistance and burial detail to color guard responsibilities. Until Fort Bragg hired contract security guards in January to man its gates, rear detachment soldiers also pulled gate guard duty.
"When the 82nd was gone, the COSCOM filled in," said Johansen. "It wasn't necessarily in things our soldiers are trained to do, but they did them and did them well. We're multi-functional. Our soldiers basically do it all."
Members of the rear detachment said the job is surprisingly fulfilling, giving them an opportunity to perform a diversity of tasks, many more typically assigned to higher-ranking soldiers. "I like it because you get to do a variety of missions," said Sims, who as a specialist is doing a job more typically assigned to a noncommissioned officer.
"If they heed the call and stay focused and motivated, they can really shine," Kukiela said of his junior soldiers.
And although they're not on the front lines, members of the rear detachment say they're serving an important role in the war on terror. "We're not doing the big, flashy jobs that you see on the news," acknowledged Ritchey. "But we're playing a role in supporting those troops."
Dorman said this level of responsibility demands the strongest leadership possible in its officers as well as its NCOs. "You have to leave a strong staff behind that you can entrust to get the job done," he said.
"You as the forward-deployed leader need to feel comfortable with who is left behind," agreed Johansen. "That's why you need to seek out the strong leaders for the rear detachment."