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Monday, May 14, 2007

Deployment Provides Direction, Focus

By Sgt. Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq, May 14, 2007 — Two years ago, a wife sat by her husband’s side, comforting him. The woman had quit her job as a school teacher several years earlier to help her ailing spouse through two bouts of cancer. And then the woman, an Army Reserve soldier lost her spouse of 35 years.

Master Sgt. Brinda Kupiec was at a crossroads in her life after the death of her husband. After spending nearly every day together during the last years of his life, Kupiec wasn’t sure where to start picking up the pieces, or how to start a new life alone.

“He went through a lot, but I wasn’t ready to give him up,” the Lubbock, Texas, native said of her husband. “(But) we’re not put here to live forever.”

Without a full-time job to occupy her time, Kupiec found it hard to cope without her lifelong partner.

“Living in the same house, was kind of hard (when he was gone),” she said. “At home I had the tendency to sit around the house.”

With plans to retire from the Army Reserve in September 2006, Kupiec didn’t expect to be deployed, and though she knew it could happen she certainly didn’t expect that a deployment would help refocus her life — but it did.

“It was always in the back of my mind that I would get deployed,” the grandmother of two said. “I never felt any anxiety about coming.”

Kupiec originally joined the Air Force in 1972, following her husband, who spent two tours in Vietnam. She said she joined because she was ready for a change and also to show her husband support.

When her husband retired in 1976, she got out of the Air Force and never thought she would serve again. Years later, when Kupiec’s daughter was 18 years old and joining the Army reserve, she convinced her mother to join with her — after a 13-year break in service.

Then, in July 2006, Kupiec received news of her deployment to Iraq just months before she planned to retire. She left the United States that same month.

Kupiec met the unit she would be attached to, the 657th Area Support Group, from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, when she arrived in Kuwait. She said her new unit members took her under their wing immediately.

“Everyone in the unit has been instrumental (in my improvement),” Kupiec said. “They’ve been very accepting. They’ve been good to me.”

With a new mission in Iraq, as the host national escort noncommissioned officer in charge, Kupiec committed herself to her job and soon found that her grief was less severe.

“(The job) keeps me busy,” she said. “You don’t have time to sit back and feel sorry for yourself. It took me coming over here to realize I have a lot to be thankful for.”

Kupiec said she especially enjoys working with the Iraqi laborers who come onto Anaconda every day. She said she’s learned a lot from working with the locals.

“They have the same needs and wants, and they love their families so much.”

Even though getting the male Iraqi workers to accept a female as the person in charge was a challenge at first, Kupiec said she now is friends with most of the workers, and greets them with a handshake every morning.

“She immediately overcame any preconceived notions,” said Staff Sgt. Kris K. Kaopuiki of Honolulu, a host national escort noncommissioned officer who works with Kupiec. “She was always determined to make this work.”

Kaopuiki said their job is not an easy one.

“Security is foremost,” he said.

While their task is to provide jobs for local Iraqi workers, the main priority is the safety of the servicemembers and civilians on Anaconda, Kaopuiki said. Each morning, Kupiec and her team of soldiers escort about 200 Iraqi workers from an entry point onto the base. Once they are inside a holding area, Kupiec is in charge of pairing them up with units who need them to accomplish tasks such as digging trenches, stacking sandbags or cleaning buildings.

“This is a fun job,” Kupiec said. “Probably one of the most rewarding jobs on this post.” Kupiec said she now feels grateful to the military for providing her with a means to overcome her personal grief.

Although Kaopuiki said he thinks she mostly keeps her sadness inside, he said he’s noticed a positive change in her since the deployment began.

“I think the Army did me a favor,” Kupiec said of her tour. When her deployment is over, Kupiec said she plans to go back to teaching -- a profession she has always loved.

But for now, she will continue to do her job, and while still missing her husband, she is able to move on with a purpose.

Photo Caption: U.S. Army Master Sgt. Brinda Kupiec of Lubbock, Texas, the host national escort noncommissioned officer in charge with the 657th Area Support Group, checks in local Iraqi laborers, May 3, 2007, as they report for work at Logistical Support Area Anaconda. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown.

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