James Chesebro and Joseph Kostreba were in college when news came that their lives as students were about to change dramatically.
Both 20-year-old U.S. Army Reservists were activated with the 367th Engineer Battalion, the single largest Army Reserve unit to mobilize in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Noble Eagle and Iraqi Freedom in Minnesota. The news was not unexpected as there had been warnings of unit activation, but the call-up is the first in recent memory.
"Our battalion hasn't been mobilized since World War II so it's a big event," said Capt. Mark Neuenfeldt, Alpha Company commander, based in Brainerd.
The 367th Engineer Battalion, which provides support for combat units, is headquartered in St. Cloud with companies in Brainerd, Duluth, Mankato and a detachment in Fergus Falls.
In northeast Brainerd, Alpha Company is tucked behind BISYS offices near the East Brainerd Mall intersection. About 129 soldiers from five states will leave for a deployment in Southeast Asia that could last up to two years. They are part of 570 troops in the battalion set to leave jobs, studies, family and friends behind. The 367th Engineer Battalion is the largest Army Reserve unit to mobilize since Operation Desert Shield in 1990.
Pfc. Joseph Kostreba (left) and Spc. James Chesebro paused during preparations for Alpha Company's departure as the 367th Engineer Battalion recently was mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (Dispatch Photos by Nels Norquist)
Troops were scheduled to leave Saturday from four locations at various times.
"We are all motivated and that is a good, positive sign," Neuenfeldt said. "They all want to go, definitely, they want to serve their country."
The 367th Engineer Battalion also provides support to combat units through food service, supply, maintenance, personnel and a construction platoon consisting of carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians, surveyors and draftsmen.
The troops had been training, studying and getting gear ready for the departure. With soldiers hailing from six states (North Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Mississippi and Ohio), they also have been getting to know each other.
Kostreba said there are already good friendships in the works.
U.S. Army Reservists from Alpha Company, 367th Engineer Battalion, worked on a 10-ton cargo truck at the company's headquarters in northeast Brainerd. Troops and equipment departed last week for training at Fort McCoy, Wis., before their deployment overseas in support of the war on terrorists.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of strong bonds formed overseas," he said.
A few activities before the deployment created an opportunity for the families left behind to get to know each other as well.
Chesebro, 20, from Eagle, Wis., was at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha. Kostreba, 20, was at Ridgewater College in Willmar. Chesebro plans to become a wildlife biologist or environmentalist. Kostreba is a law enforcement student.
Both found college teachers supportive and flexible. Kostreba hopes to continue at least part of his studies by using the Internet. But neither knows what to expect in terms of downtime or where exactly they will be located.
"I'm just excited and very proud to be doing what I am doing," Chesebro said, adding the entire unit wants to set high standards and they expect to make an impression wherever they go. "It should be a life experience for all the guys."
Both Chesebro and Kostreba said their fellow soldiers were OK with the deployment -- they signed up and gained benefits with the G.I. Bill and now want to contribute. They found out how much support they had -- from family, college sports teammates and students -- when the orders came through. Chesebro said all that helped.
"You just don't feel so alone," he said.
Kostreba, who was interested in the Army since he was a youngster, said his family was naturally worried at the news. But both his mom and dad had brothers in the Army. "They support it."
He said he had butterflies in his stomach when the news came, but support from college buddies helped.
"You are nervous, but you know your guys are going to take care of you," he said.
Chesebro said it's a natural feeling to be sad and miss families left behind, but the unit's attitude is good and the positives outweigh the negatives. He said they do not dwell on things and just plan to be there for each other.
Watching soldiers work on a cargo truck in the lot behind the company's building, Neuenfeldt said he has been fortunate to have good troops who have come together quickly.
"I'm glad I'm going with these guys," Kostreba said.
"Everybody is growing on each other," Chesebro said. "We are going to be a family in no time."
"We already are," Kostreba said.
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