Jan 6, 2010 4:22 PM by Rob Kirkpatrick
LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - Heath Stoute served with the Louisiana
National Guard the last time the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
deployed to Iraq in 2004-05.
He headed back to the Middle East last week, joining about 3,000
other National Guard personnel in deployment ceremonies throughout
the state. But much has changed for the Kaplan native.
The most important change occurred in September when he married
his wife, Amy. Now there's more to come home to after the yearlong
Stoute has also advanced in rank to staff sergeant, and in
theory, the mission is a peacekeeping one instead of waging war.
What is certain is that the young couple faces a challenging
year, like hundreds of others.
"I've been knowing we'd be going back since the first time we
went," Stoute said. "The Big Army has a model of training and
preparing a timeline between deployments, and there's five years in
between. Five years from the first time would have been September
"It's been up in the air," Amy Stoute said. "It was never
definite until last year."
"I know what our mission is supposed to be," Stoute said.
"We're hearing we're going (back) to Iraq, but until I set foot on
the ground anything can change. You might get to the mobilization
station, and find out you're going to Afghanistan.
"It's constant change. I don't get my hopes up. It can be a
good thing or a bad thing. You plan around the hard times."
Zeus, their 16-month-old Great Dane, is already large, and he
will be in charge of security as Amy awaits her husband's return.
She is midway through a two-year program in surgical technology at
Louisiana Technical College, and the Comeaux High graduate's days
will be full.
"School is very demanding," she said. "There will be times
I'm up until midnight, and then up at 4:30. We get tested so often.
Our original class of 41 is down to 10 now."
Combine Amy's schoolwork and Heath's attention to detail in his
job with the Guard, and their time together is precious.
"I never dated someone (who was) on active duty," Amy Stoute
said. "With someone in the Guard, it's one weekend a month and two
weeks out of the summer (away). It's not any worse than with
someone who works offshore.
"But active duty is harder. It's hard, because this is my first
time dealing with this. It's like going to Disneyland, or going off
to college. You don't learn about it until you get there. The
realization hasn't hit yet."
There is help, though.
"The local Amvets group had a Christmas party," Amy Stoute
said, "and the wives all told me they knew what I was going
through. They said, 'We're here for you. If you need, call us. We
know how hard things can be.'
"They know how to adapt to it and they can hook me up with the
Veterans and their wives of a certain vintage know how hard
deployments were in years past, and they want to make things easier
for the current generation.
"At one time," Stoute said, "housing was exclusively for the
soldier. When he deployed, you (the spouse) had to go somewhere
else. I can't fathom that. Now the support is abundant."
Although Stoute will miss Amy, modern technology will let them
communicate frequently. And it's clear he's happy in his work.
When Stoute first went to Iraq, he was in charge of keeping
track of an entire battalion, about 500 personnel. He handled radio
communications with patrols in and around Baghdad. From time to
time, he was able to drive commanders on patrols.
This time, he is a staff sergeant in logistics. He and two
soldiers under his command will work with a company of 131.
"It's my job to keep the commander from paying for anything out
of his pocket," Stoute said with a wry smile.
"I'm definitely making a career out of the military," he
added. "I'm thinking of different paths, of doing something more
exciting. I've looked at Special Forces, getting information about
what the requirements are.
"When I was in high school I had no clue what I wanted to do.
But Gary Broussard, who coached me, was in the military, and I
loved the way he presented himself, what the uniform made him."
Now Stoute is far enough advanced that he's helping others who
enter the Guard to know what to expect as deployment looms.
"We have what's called Sergeant's Time, down time in training,
where the leaders get together with the enlisted soldiers and teach
them," he said. "In the Army, you train one above and one below
you, so you'll always know what to do.
"We teach what we know and what we've experienced, to give them
a jump start on what to expect. It can make a world of
Now, of course, Heath and Amy are on the verge of that
deployment, and sobering realities.
"I'm passionate about what I do," Stoute said. "As a soldier,
you go to war and you know you could get shot at. If you don't know
that, you won't do well. If a mistake is made, you could die. I go
in with an open mind."
"Your life depends on another's," Amy Stoute said.
"I've prepared a spreadsheet on our computer at home, of things
that need to be done on a daily basis," Stoute said. "Things like
paying bills, she's got to pick that up. (And) she'll need to know
what to do if I die. That's reality."
A more enticing reality is anticipating a year from now, with
Heath back home and Amy finished with her studies.
"I have a month and a half leave when I get back," Stoute
said. "We'll go on our honeymoon."
"Yeah," Amy Stoute said. "We got married on a Saturday, and I
was in school on that Monday."
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