As he prepares to join the war in Afghanistan, Woodstock native Jeff Austin is clear about his mission, and his role with the U.S. Army Reserve.
"I am a soldier, plain and simple," said Austin, 35, a sergeant with the 863rd Engineer Battalion. "I go where I am sent and do my job to the best of my abilities."
Austin, an art teacher at Grant Community High School in Fox Lake, and the rest of his unit officially deployed Aug. 20. Their tour will last 400 days.
He spoke with the Daily Herald via e-mail last week while training for his tour of duty.
Q. Where are you right now? Have you arrived in Afghanistan yet?
A. Right now, I am training (and) preparing for my deployment. To my knowledge I will be heading out roughly in October.
Q. What's your rank and job description?
A. Sergeant, petroleum supply specialist.
Q. Why did you join the reserves?
A. I joined the reserves after my three years in active duty. I love the Army and wanted to stay involved. That was almost 14 years ago.
Q. Did you expect to be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan?
A. I am a soldier, plain and simple. I go where I am sent and do my job to the best of my abilities.
Q. Where did you go to college and high school?
A. I graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2007. I went to high school at Woodstock High school and I graduated from there in 1993. I enlisted in 1996.
Q. You were married this summer, congratulations. Did you schedule that deliberately before your deployment?
A. Thank you! Well, funny you should ask that. I love my wife, and we talked about getting married, but we were going to wait until I returned from my deployment. However, after a family readiness briefing, and a long talk with one of my best friends, Zac Sutherland, I popped the question and my wife and I were able to get married a few weeks before I deployed.
Q. What does your family think about your deployment? Are they worried?
A. I am from a military family. My father served two tours in Vietnam and was in Iraq, and my mother was an Army wife (toughest job in the Army) for over 25 years. When I was little and went on field trips, kids would have sack lunches in paper bags, I would have an M.R.E. (Meals Ready to Eat). Being a soldier is something I kind of always knew I would end up doing. My family is very proud of me, as well as the men and women who defend our country. And I am very proud of them, especially my wife. You ask if they are worried. My family has a son deploying, wouldn't you be worried?
Q. Are you worried?
A. Honestly, no. I am very confident of the training we have received, as well as my fellow soldiers' abilities to do their jobs. I am a little bummed though - I will miss a year of teaching.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish with the experience?
A. I hope to accomplish keeping the soldiers that I am responsible for safe, and (to) get them home to their families in 400 days. Maybe do a little drawing, too.
Q. Have the people at Grant been supportive?
A. My fellow staff has been very supportive! I have some very good friends that I work with, and I will miss them. The administration has also been great, assuring me that I will be welcomed back to Grant with open arms when I get home. The students have been very supportive as well.