As Brian Penn prepares to deploy to Afghanistan he will be leaving behind a group of co-workers that he says feel more like family. He has spent the last two years working as a host at CJ’s on the Bay at the Esplanade, but will deploy with the Army Reserve 321 Support Brigade out of Mobile, Ala., on Aug. 18. This comes nearly 10 years after the war with Afghanistan began.
As a chaplain’s assistant, Penn’s job is to protect the chaplain who is not allowed to be armed. he also performs administrative duties for the chaplain.
“I love the job itself and for me seeing a lot of the good that soldiers and the military as a whole does, for me that is a big benefit; seeing the good that we are doing,” Penn says.
This is Penn’s second tour of duty. He was previously deployed to Iraq in October 2005 and spent one year there. He has been in the military for seven years and plans to reenlist and make a career out of the Army.
“I knew I was going to be deployed, I just didn’t know when,” Penn said. “I went to my brigade captain, and said ‘sir, I’m available if you need somebody to deploy.’”
That was one year ago. Penn serves with the 332 Transportation Battalion out of Tampa, but his captain asked him if he would be willing to deploy with the 321 out of Mobile and Penn said yes.
Penn says that the difficulty of deployment varies for different soldiers, and for some the hardest part is leaving their families. Many soldiers that he knows have served 3 or 4 tours and have young families at home.
“When you have a family, it makes it a lot more difficult because you know every single day that you have that family back home missing you that used to rely on you every day,” Penn says. “When I was on active duty myself and a couple of my friends joked around that we aren’t getting married. If the army wanted us married they would have issued us wives.
Penn is single with no children. For him, the harder truth of war is loosing fellow soldiers. Since the war on terror began in 2001, U.S. Central Command has confirmed that 6,088 U.S. Soldiers have been killed in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.
“For me, the hardest part was loosing people that I know,” Penn says. “I still have friends at Fort Campbell that are in the middle of their third tour now. I lost a total of nine soldiers from active duty that I knew and recently we lost a soldier from my reserve unit that was getting ready to deploy.”
He says that deploying into the midst of war is always hard for different soldiers for different reasons, but that he looks for the good in what he is doing.
“As a chaplains assistant I also deal with not only protecting the chaplain, but to the best of my ability counseling soldiers and family members who are having issues in life,” Penn says. “For me, my personal joy is being able to help soldiers.”
He speaks of the good feeling that soldiers get when they help people in these countries, or when they make a child smile by giving them a gift.
“I’ve found over the last 10 years that the news always shows the negative aspect, it never shows the good or the things that actually help the Iraquis and the Afghan people,” Penn says.
He says it bothers him when people forget that there are good things being done.
“My mother said this several times and she words it perfectly,” Penn says. “It’s not about whether she supports or is for or against the war, it is about supporting me. I think Americans as a whole, I think we get that, we understand that, but some people tend to forget even though you may be against the war you still should show support for the military.”