In January 2008, Jayme Trygstad, the assistant director of environmental health and safety and a captain in the South Dakota Army National Guard, will be deployed to Afghanistan, leaving behind his family, home and job.
Trygstad is tentatively scheduled to report to Fort Riley, Kan., for the start of his one-year deployment at the end of January. For approximately two months at Fort Riley, Trygstad and his embedded training team members will receive intensive training to acquire the skills needed to provide training and mentorship to an assigned infantry battalion within the Afghanistan National Army.
Once Trygstad’s training is completed, he will travel to Afghanistan to begin his service there. While overseas, Trygstad will be a company commander mentor, meaning he will be advising the Afghani company commander who is in charge of 180 to 300 soldiers.
In some ways, Trygstad is excited for his time in Afghanistan. He said a positive of his deployment will be “using all the training that I’ve gotten in the last 15 years and putting that training to test.”
Still, during his one-year tour of duty, Trygstad will miss many things. He will miss his family, a wife and a son, and he will be absent for the birth of his second child who is due in April. Besides family, he will miss Jackrabbit football and coaching fifth and sixth grade football in Volga.
As for work, Trygstad said, “It (his job) is just beginning to take off with being busy. New federal policies are beginning to be put in place which increases responsibility in our office. It’s a tough time to leave work.”
Still, he joked that since SDSU is hiring two people-a temporary person along with a full-time employee-to fill his position, it will take two people to fill the void that his absence will create.
For their part, Trygstad said that SDSU has been “very supportive” even though they are probably not excited that he will be gone for a year. He also said state policies are supportive of the troops, and he has already gotten overwhelming support from his family and friends in Volga.
Just like Trygstad, over 3,100 soldiers and 700 airmen from the South Dakota National Guard have been activated since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, and according to the SDSU Veterans Affairs Office, since 2003, a little over 300 people from SDSU have been deployed.
Jerry Jorgensen, Dean of the College of Arts and Science, and Ben Hoffman, a junior electronic engineering technology major, are two of those 300. In 2004, Jorgensen, a colonel who has been in the Army Reserves for 29 and a half years, was activated to the Pentagon for a year. In 2003, Hoffman, a cadet in the National Guard, was deployed to Iraq for a year.
At the Pentagon, Jorgensen was Deputy Director of Army Reserve Communications. He worked with the national media, formulated strategic communications and monitored how the Army Reserve’s message was put out.
In Iraq, Hoffman was a supply specialist for the unit’s armor. He took care of all the unit’s small arms, was in charge of troubleshooting problems with the weapons and secured bunkers filled with ammunition that were in remote areas.
Through their service, both Jorgensen and Hoffman can relate to Trygstad’s situation, and all three said that family is the most affected and most missed in deployments.
“A family has to make a lot of adjustments,” Jorgensen said. “They are very much affected. Spouses or family members have to do everything, some of which were perhaps shared duties.”
Hoffman’s family was also very worried. “I’m sure they were proud of me, but at the same time, they were stressed out because of some of the dangers that I could have been in,” he said.
Other areas of Jorgensen and Hoffman’s lives were affected as well. Jorgensen had to leave his job as dean for the year of his activation while Hoffman left school before the end of the semester. Both agreed that SDSU was very understanding of their situations, though.
If students are called up for military service after they have completed 75 percent of the academic term, instructors can (not must) give them a letter grade. If the students have completed less than 75 percent of the term, they are entitled to a full-refund. In Hoffman’s case, he received grades for his classes, but still, his deployment set him back three semesters.
Despite missing their families and the job and school situations, there were positives to Jorgensen’s and Hoffman’s deployments. For Jorgensen, working with the national media was “very professionally stimulating” and “professionally expanding.”
Hoffman’s positives included: “a break from school, hanging out with the guys, working with some Iraqi people and being able to sightsee.” While in Iraq, Hoffman visited the Ziggurat Ur and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Another uplifting aspect of deployment was all the support Jorgensen and Hoffman received. Jorgensen said that many people “certainly deserve great credit for their support.” From a pat on the back to a person expressing thanks, Jorgensen said the public support “makes you feel pretty good.”
Hoffman said that his family sent him stuff all the time, and he even received packages from random people in the U.S. Hoffman also sent a biweekly e-mail, which grew from a five-person mailing list to close to 200. Hoffman did not know most of the people, but they were people who just wanted to know what Iraq is like.
Jorgensen and Hoffman’s experiences were also life changing.
Jorgensen had to write speeches for the funerals of fallen soldiers. “Whenever a fatality came through our office, that was hard,” he said. “It has an impact to see the cost and sacrifice. It puts a face on it.”
Along with making him financially secure “for life,” Hoffman’s deployment made him appreciate the U.S. more and changed him in many other ways. “It made me a way stronger and more confident person, I get along with people better and I have a bigger appreciation for life in general,” he said.
With all their experience, Hoffman and Jorgensen have advice for Trygstad.
“Stay focused on what you’re doing and be safe and get back to the U.S. as quickly as possible,” Jorgensen said.
“Get a window seat on the way over,” Hoffman said. “Take a computer, take a good MP3 player but don’t get a GPS.”
As for Trygstad, his plan for his time in Afghanistan is to keep things in perspective. “I need to keep my head about things and keep things that happen in Afghanistan in Afghanistan,” he said.