By Sgt. Tackora Hand
| Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment | Jan. 22, 2021
U.S. Soldiers with the Indiana National Guard pose for a photo in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2021. At least 25,000 National Guard men and women have been authorized to conduct security, communication and logistical missions in support of federal and District authorities leading up and through the 59th Presidential Inauguration. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Tackora Hand) (Photo by Sgt. Tackora Hand)
WASHINGTON -- “At first, I was kind of nervous,” said Pvt. Damon Gentry, referring to when he received the call that his unit was being sent to Washington to provide security and other missions during the lead up to the 59th Presidential Inauguration.
“Obviously my family was concerned, due to the safety aspect and that didn’t help calm my nerves.”
Gentry -- a Fort Wayne, Indiana, native and combat medic with the Indiana Army National Guard's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment -- graduated from initial training in October. This was his first mission after graduation.
Despite his nerves, within 24 hours of notification Gentry and others from his unit were being briefed at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, on the mission in Washington. The oldest of six children, Gentry said he regularly helps his parents care of his siblings while also working full-time as a plasma technician.
With more than 25,000 National Guard troops deployed to Washington, D.C., many only see the massive formations marching to fulfill their mission as a unified force. However, not only does each Soldier or Airman have a duty to fulfill, they also have loved ones who make their service possible.
When a military order is published and Citizen-Soldiers are called to serve, a second “order” is received simultaneously. This implied order is for bosses, families, spouses, children and often, even the pets. This requires the Guardsman’s loved ones and employers to immediately prepare for a time without their Soldier or Airman.
“I was a little sad to leave my family and they were definitely a little more upset,” said Gentry.“ I just did my best to reassure them I would be safe and I was well trained.”
For Gentry, he was more worried about what his civilian bosses may say.
“I was worried to tell my boss I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my upcoming schedule because of the Guard,” said Gentry. “I had recently got the job with the help of a senior NCO in my unit and nearly doubled my income by using my military medical training. I didn’t want to mess it up.”
To Gentry’s surprise, his civilian job was extremely accommodating and rewrote his schedule, which allowed him to focus on the mission.
Gentry said that while nervous, he was also excited to take part in the mission in Washington.
“I really looked forward to the opportunity to put all of the training I’ve received into practice,” he said. “As a medic you never really want to be needed, but just being out here at the checkpoints with Soldiers ensuring I have all the proper equipment and doing what I have been trained to do is rewarding.”
Despite the long shifts and miles of walking to reach areas where his unit has been providing security, Gentry’s positive outlook has not waivered. “I want to make a difference,” said Gentry. “I hope that people truly see the way all of us service members who have differences, families and civilian jobs have put our life on pause and came together from all over the nation for this mission.”
Another member of the company, Capt. Daniel Ostlund, the unit medical provider, had a similar experience when called to serve.
“My wife was worried after the events from earlier in the month, rightfully so,” said Ostlund. “I, on the other hand, was super excited. I was ready to go the night I received the call. These missions are why I joined.”
With four kids under 10 years old being home-schooled, Ostlund lives and works in Fort Wayne with his wife where he is surrounded by an abundance of support.
“I could disappear for years and know my wife can fully handle it; she can handle anything,” said Ostlund. “And I’m just as fortunate with my work, they don’t even blink when I tell them I have Guard requirements.”
Despite the short notice and the events that lead to the deployment to Washington, Indiana Guardsmen and their families answered the call to help protect the sanctity of the democratic process and to help ensure the peaceful transition of authority.
“Our Hoosier Guardsmen stood ready with more than 25,000 citizen-soldiers and citizen-airmen from around the country to help ensure a peaceful transfer of authority at our nation’s capital,” said Brig. Gen. Dale Lyles, the adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard. “In Indiana, we continue to support COVID-19-response missions - assisting at long-term care facilities, distributing invaluable personal protection equipment and also helping to distribute the coronavirus vaccination. Yet we could not do all this without the love and support from our family, friends, communities and civilian employers. Thank you, Indiana.”