SHELTER
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January/February 2006                                Volume 45,  Issue 1

Honor a Soldier Jeff Carpenter
An Officer and a Gentleman
Jeff Carpenter's Return Home Reunites Family
by Brigid O'Leary

“When it comes to massive troop movements, you may get 
delayed a day or hear rumors and what that does is plays 
on the minds of soldiers and plays on their combat readiness.” 
—Jeff Carpenter

Editor’s Note: This is the last in our series honoring a soldier.

When Capt. Jeff Carpenter got the call in the spring of 2003 that his National Guard unit was being deployed to the Middle East for a tour of duty he says he was almost elated. 

Elated “that the wait was finally over. I knew we’d be getting called,” he said.

Jeff is no stranger to long-term deployment. He received the call exactly one year after he’d returned from a previous overseas mission with the Guard; he’d been home only a year from a tour in Egypt when he was informed that he’d be shipping out again.

He’d only been a dad for six months. 

There You Go

Jeff got the call-up in September 2003. By October he had left Memphis to report to the armory in Arkansas, where his unit is headquartered, and then on to Fort Hood, Texas, for training. Training lasted for six months, which kept Jeff in the United States through the winter holidays and allowed him to come home for Christmas that year.

So what makes this story so special? Well, if you know no one else who served in the conflict in the Middle East this time around, you know Jeff Carpenter; or rather, you know how his service to the country has affected life on the homefront. Jeff’s wife, Samantha, is the editor of SHELTER magazine and mother to the couple’s two-and-a-half-year-old twin sons. In his absence, Samantha juggled full-time parenthood and work, but as she said, “you just deal with it.” 

Instead, they focused on what had to be done prior to his departure.

“When I’m ready to go or say goodbye, I have to say it right then or I’ll fall apart,” said Samantha, who describes Jeff as a “very Type A personality,” though he did get a little teary-eyed when he had to leave.

“The boys, of course, had no clue,” Samantha added.

Walk the Line

Throughout her husband’s deployment Samantha brought you their story in her editorial column, but it wasn’t always happy days —on either side. Though the unit had a family readiness group for emotional support, the family’s home in Memphis, Tenn., puts them just over the border from where the National Guard unit is headquartered in Arkansas. With two infants in tow, Samantha wasn’t always able to attend the meetings, and even when she did she was wary about what she said and to whom she said it.

“I felt I didn’t have anyone to talk to because the other wives’ husbands are [Jeff’s subordinates] and he didn’t need the gossip or the talk if it got back to him that the commander’s wife is upset,” Samantha said.

On his end, Jeff had similar issues he had to deal with —and just as little emotional support.

“It wasn’t only my life I was responsible for, it was also approximately 70 other individuals’ lives for whom I was responsible. Everything —all human reaction that goes on during war—I had to address it as a commander; a multitude of different situations or leadership challenges manifest themselves during combat. I have my feelings too, and I would talk to other friends of mine who were commanders, but it was a lonely job,” Jeff said.

Support came from family, particularly for Samantha. 

“They were very supportive. They knew it was going to be tough on Samantha,” Jeff said when asked what his family’s reaction was to the news he was going to war. 

“Me ... they didn’t care about me. They knew I could take care of myself. I was just going to war,” he added, laughing. “They were very supportive and knew that with two small children they were going to have to help her out because, for all practical purposes, she’d just become a single mom.”

Guess Things Happen That Way

He had no concerns about the mission before shipping out. 

“I’d been deployed before. I knew it’d be different because a war was going on,” he said. “For my soldiers who had never been on deployment before, I [tried to give them] peace of mind that they were going to miss out on some things their family members did and that [the family] would also have to miss out. It helped them realize that sacrifices were going to have to be made by everybody—not just [their] family members, but them also.”

Deployed for a year, they would miss a lot, not just family events and holidays, but the day-to-day activities of life in the United States. In a war zone, the comforts from home can be scarce, and in the “nice little desert oasis,” as he describes Iraq, Jeff and the soldiers of the 239th didn’t have many creature comforts. When asked what he missed most during his deployment, he answered promptly: Wendy’s triple cheeseburger. 

“And the kids, of course,” he added. “But definitely the Wendy’s triple cheeseburger.”

Tennessee Flat-Top Box

Returning to Memphis in the spring of 2005 did not come without trying times. On many occasions, the 239th had been the target of enemy fire in the form of rockets. In addition to the wartime hazards any soldier can expect, there were also psychological elements that can wear down a soldier.

For Jeff, one of those psychological battles he had to fight most often was the rumor mill. 

“When soldiers talk about going home, the rumor mill runs rampant. Soldiers can hear all sorts of rumors. Even after we were there only a month or two, they heard we were leaving in a month. It always starts with ‘I heard.’ The thing is, until you get an official order, nothing is set in stone. And even then, until you actually get ... on a plane, nothing is set in stone,” he said. “What I did for my soldiers was preach flexibility, flexibility, flexibility. When it comes to massive troop movements, you may get delayed a day or hear rumors and what that does is plays on the minds of soldiers and plays on their combat readiness.”

Welcome Home

In March 2005, massive troop movements brought all 70-plus members of the 239th Military Intelligence Co. home to a mass of welcoming arms in Perryville, Ark.

“It was great. The town that my Armory is in—Perryville, Ark. —threw a homecoming ceremony, complete with food, live band and members of the community came and wished us well and were glad we were home. It was a very warm reception,” said Jeff.

For the family there was no running across the tarmac such as they show in movies and television, but the adjustment to his being home was as textbook as could be expected.

“It’s been an adjustment. It’s just now starting to work its way out. Mostly it has to do with the kids ... who’s getting up in the middle of the night if they’re crying. I think, ‘I’ve done it for the last year and half, it’s your turn,’ but he’s thinking, “you’ve done it for the last year and a half, why can’t you still do it?” [Meanwhile,] the boys are used to me ... we’re just getting to the point of sharing the duties of raising kids,” Samantha said, though she added that sons Clay and Owen love having their dad home, and “they are the apples of his eyes.”

Jeff looks at the adjustment to his being home in a philosophical manner.

“Some things that were important before seem inconsequential now. I can’t tell you exactly what things, but ... I know what’s important now and what’s trivial. If something really got me wrapped around the axle before or got me really angry, now it’s just ‘whatever.’ We were told that upon redeployment that things that mattered beforehand would be [less important] now,” he said. “Of course, some of those same things Samantha gets wrapped up on doesn’t get the same reaction from me and we have to sit down and talk about it. We’ve had to reconnect. I was gone for 18 months, living single. She was here, single parent with two of them. We’ve done different things and had to come back and reconnect. It’s been a struggle at times because of the way we think about things. She’s matured and I’ve matured.”

Song of the Patriot
Serving in combat changes people. For Jeff, as for many veterans of war, it has made him appreciate what he has and how precious life is.

“You learn that life is very precarious. We take it for granted every day. It can be extinguished. Every soldier that has gone over there and served in Iraq has been shot at. Maybe not by an AK47, but definitely by artillery and/or rockets,” said Jeff. He also appreciates new aspects of growth and learning that serving provided. “In all of America, there are probably less than one-percent who can say they have commanded troops in combat. That’s a privilege that I have had, that the country has granted me, but it’s also a great learning experience because people do behave differently in combat because of high stress levels. That’s something I’ll always remember—that I’ve commanded troops, in combat.”

Returning home to his job as operations manager for Roadway Express trucking company, Jeff has decided that this last tour of duty would be his last. His time in the Guard ends this month.

“This one really sucked it out of me,” he said with a hollow laugh.

Brigid O’Leary is an assistant editor for SHELTER magazine.


SHELTER

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