Editor's Note: Army Lt. Matt Spartz, a lifelong Lombard resident, is a 2008 journalism graduate at University of Illinois. He recently was deployed to Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division. The is the first of occasional reports he is submitting to the Daily Herald.
More than three years after first deciding to join the Army, I will finally be going on my first deployment, to the eastern provinces of Afghanistan. Halfway through college, when things were at their worst in Iraq before the Sunni awakening, I had my own personal awakening to fulfill a boyhood longing of being a soldier.
Now the focus is on Afghanistan. Two years of training in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, Air Assault school, Basic Officer Leaders Course, Field Artillery school, Pathfinder school, the Joint Fires Observer school and a full year at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky in the 101st Airborne Division, and now it's time to get in the game.
When people ask how I feel about deploying, I tell them it's a lot like when I played football at Glenbard East High School in Lombard. As soldiers we have raised our hands and volunteered for this task. Deploying after three years of Army training has been like double football practices during hot Chicago summers, practicing after school all week, and finally getting to play varsity on Friday nights.
It's like the varsity game, if the Army were a sport, but the stakes are much higher. The night before my Army varsity game I meticulously cut my hair the way I've taught myself to do over the years. I play my favorite soundtrack of metal songs. My girlfriend and I go out for some American barbecue and a cold Sam Adams.
The final pep rally before my deployment was a weekend of packing up my townhouse into storage with my family, which also happened to fall on Mother's Day. Just like every good football team has an entourage of coaches, it takes a village to deploy a soldier. The time they spent to ensure my transition to deployment was as smooth as possible is happening thousands of times a day across our country.
The selfless hours families put into packing, every well wish from old friends, and every cold beer bought by a stranger for a soldier in uniform galvanizes the resolve of our deploying warriors.
This is the bosom of confidence with which our families, friends and strangers send off their sons and daughters wholeheartedly to the modern battlefield. I hadn't had the privilege until now to know the patriotic vein of support that still runs deep in our society.
When my family and I said our final "see ya laters" (not goodbyes), my mom gave me a rosary made with worn nickel emblems and pearl-colored beads tied back together with cotton string. My great-grandmother gave it to my mom when she was in third grade. My great-grandmother's brother brought it home from his war. Behind choked tears my mom said she was told he'd had it blessed by the Pope, and she mandated I bring it back safely.
We soldiers fight in the moment for the safety and honor of our fellow soldiers. But we continue to raise our hands in the long war for the love of our families, our friends, and every stranger who supports honoring the cause of something bigger than themselves.
I am excited to get off the bench, put on my helmet, and head to the front lines. And eventually, our cheering crowds will push our military team across the final winning goal line.