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Oral History Of Iraq & Afghanistan: Sgt. Maj. Anthony Agee Oral History Of Iraq & Afghanistan: Sgt. Maj. Anthony Agee Oral History Of Iraq & Afghanistan: Sgt. Maj. Anthony Agee Oral History Of Iraq & Af...

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National Security

Oral History Of Iraq & Afghanistan: Sgt. Maj. Anthony Agee

As Told To Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

September 19, 2009

The son of a Vietnam veteran, Anthony Agee is a senior non-commissioned officer with 22 years of Army service. He has deployed to the 1991 Gulf War, to peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, and, since 2003, to Iraq for three tours, each a year long, and with as little as nine months in between.

I was born and raised in Clanton, Alabama. I am the oldest of seven kids. My father is prior military also -- he's a veteran of the Vietnam War.

I saw what the military did for my father as far as being able to come in the military, have a career, and then after five to six years, he got out of the military and started his own business. Initially, that was my plan also.... But after I was in the military for four years, I decided to re-enlist for another two to three years to continue with my military career. I realized it was something I really wanted to do.

 

I enjoy what I do in the military -- lead soldiers, train them, mentor them -- but I also understand that there's a cost [to] my family. My deployments to OIF-1, -3, and -5, those are a year [each]. When I talk with my kids now, they'll try to remind me of something that happened during that timeframe and then they'll say, "Oh, you were deployed during that time, you wouldn't remember it." I know I'll never get that time back.

I'm a soldier first; I'm a dad first, also, and I have to balance that.

My kids are getting older now to where they're starting to understand what's going on in the world a little bit more, and they're starting to ask more and more questions: where I'm going, what I do when I get there, what's it like, do I have to do certain things. It's a challenge to try to put things in perspective for them.

If you ask do I think it's worth it, yes I do, because I would rather go through things that I'm going through now to prevent my sons from having to face the same challenges and same threats in the world that we're currently facing.

[Between the second and third deployments to Iraq], there was a nine-month gap. That was a big challenge.

We knew before we redeployed [from Iraq back to the U.S.] that we would be back in nine months. Initially, morale was kind of down, because the soldiers [were] looking forward to getting back, spending some time with their family. That nine-month gap don't give you a lot of time to get reacquainted.

For my 4-year-old, it's over 50 percent [of her life that I've been deployed]. When I left to deploy, she was 4 months old, almost 5 months old. When I came back, she was almost a year and a half; and then I left again for another year.

When I was younger, I wanted to deploy; it didn't bother me, faze me, as far as being away from my family. The older I've become and the longer I've been in, I've guess I've become a little wiser and I've seen the second- and third-order effects that it has.

It's kind of sad when you see the kids crying and your wife crying and you've got to tell them, hey, I'll be back in a year. That's the challenging part. I try to prep them and make them understand that this is something that I choose to do, because we all have a choice -- I could easily get out of the military -- but trying to make them understand that we have to sacrifice something. And I'm not saying that I'm willing to sacrifice my family, but with every sacrifice comes a great gain. I do it so hopefully they won't have to do it in the years to come.

[Interviewer: Does anyone in your family ever say, “Let someone else go this time”?]

[Laughing:] My 10-year-old, he says that all the time. He says, "You just did it, it's somebody else's turn." He doesn't understand.

The challenge in my field is there's not that many of us to actually rotate. That's why we end up being in that nine-month turn, because there's a requirement out there for Afghanistan, Iraq, for engineers, specifically the field of engineers that I'm in.

Sometimes kids act out when they're away from their family. It affects kids and people in different ways. My son, he’s become more conscious of what's going on in the world, so he tries to watch the news a lot, see what's going on. And during that time he was only like 7, 8 years old, and that's too young for him to be worrying about things that are going on in the world. But in his eyes he's got a vested interest in it because I'm involved.

[For] my wife, who's used to having a partner to share with some of the duties around the house and helping out with the kids, a sounding board for her, now that's taken out of the equation -- that's more stressful for her.

[Agee's wife was in the Army herself.] That was a real big challenge for both me and my spouse; but after OIF-1 [in 2003-2004], my wife got out to give a little stability to our kids and keep the home front stable. She had been in for 12 years, so it was kind of hard for her to just throw 12 years away. But with the constant deployment cycle and the optempo [operational tempo], we had to make a decision, and the family needed one of us there, and with me being the senior ranking [soldier] and being in longer, she decided to go ahead and get out.

I have a lot of respect for military wives and spouses because they shoulder a lot when their other half is actually gone. A lot of them, it's their first time, because you've got a lot of young couples out there that's not used to be being separated for an extended period of time from their loved ones, and they do a phenomenal job shouldering the burden.

I was stressing to those guys [in my unit] all of the resource agencies that are out there for soldiers to take advantage of, to try to get their significant other or their spouse incorporated into the Family Readiness Groups that are back here, to take advantage of the Army OneSource [www.armyonesource.com] counselings that's available to soldiers and their families.

There are couples out there that fight through it, they weather that storm, and their marriage is just as strong as ever. I've been fortunate to have a supportive wife that's been there by my side. That gives me a peace of mind and the flexibility to be able to share positive experiences with my soldiers and tell them, me and my wife, we're going through it too, and I'm in the same boat as you are, and we're dealing with it, and we're making it.

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