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Charlie Company no more

Friday, October 7, 2005

(Photo)
Staff Sgt. James Wells takes blood from Sgt. Michael Bixler.
SIKESTON -- While this is likely to be Charlie Company's last homecoming, its soldiers will be able to move on to new assignments with fond memories of the unit.

Having returned Tuesday from the New Orleans area, the company is still finishing paperwork and getting things back in order after a month-long deployment.

The relief effort for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita was "somewhat of the last hurrah for Charlie Company," according to Capt. Scot Ratcliff, the company's commander. "If you are going to go out, that's the way to go out: on a positive note."

The relief effort deployment included the entire 1140th along with units from the 880th and 203rd, according to Ratcliff.

"It was a great mission. The whole battalion was successful," Ratcliff said.

Initially the 1140th was deployed to the New Orleans Parish southwest of New Orleans, according to Ratcliff.

"We were doing a lot of debris removal," he said. "That was a major part of our mission."

As the waters receded, the 1140th followed the water line using front end loaders and other equipment to clear debris along with "lots of chainsaw work," Ratcliff said.

As Hurricane Rita began to make landfall, the 1140th was moved west to the Lake Charles area.

"We were staged really well to respond to Rita," Ratcliff said. "We were the first responders on the ground at Lake Charles."

The 1140th was again assigned to "basically the same thing: debris removal," according to Ratcliff.

While the debris removal at New Orleans was cleaning up, at Lake Charles it was clearing a way. "We were there the day after the hurricane hit," said Sgt. Tom Hammontree.

The battalion first worked to open up primary and secondary roads, then began working on subdivisions and other residential areas "for people to get in, see what condition their homes were in," said Sgt. Mike Bixler.

Ratcliff said there weren't many people around New Orleans as it had been evacuated. With the Lake Charles area, however, "the soldiers really got to see the fruits of their labors," he said. "We got back there and found a house with a family that hadn't seen anybody in two or three days. They were thankful. It was good to see that."

Hammontree said he will never forget meeting an elderly man, about 74 years old, who was caring for his wife who had suffered an aneurysm and was unable to reach his home because the road and driveway were blocked by fallen trees and large limbs.

"He was actually living out of a camper, a fifth-wheel trailer," Hammontree said.

When Charlie Company cleared his street and driveway, "he couldn't have been any more grateful," Hammontree said. "He said he had been in that house for 40 years - rode out several hurricanes there."

Bixler said for him, memories of the experience will be like any other, trigged by a smell or something seen on TV. "Some things stay with you, some small things you forget," he said.

"I think it was great to end up Charlie Company this way - end with one final mission," Hammontree said. "A good humanitarian mission. People needed help and they were grateful we were there."

In addition to being Charlie Company's last mission, it was also a test of the multifunctional battalion concept for which the National Guard is being reorganized, Ratcliff said.

"The whole Missouri National Guard is going through a transformation," Ratcliff said. This reorganization of units is enabling the Guard "to meet the demands of today's battlefields," he said, by making battalions "more deployable."

The 1140th will become "a multifunctional engineer battalion," Ratcliff said. Under the present structure, he explained, battalions are comprised of the same type of units. Following the transformation, the 1140th will still be an engineer battalion but will have several different types of engineer units such as a bridge company, a heavy equipment company and "vertical" and "horizontal" engineering companies.

With the transformation, which is taking effect through September 2006, there won't be alpha, bravo and charlie companies anymore. "That's going to kind of go away," Ratcliff said.

The Sikeston Armory will soon become the home of a detachment of the 1221st transportation company, according to Ratcliff.

Equipped with 18-wheelers with flatbeds, assignments will included "the relocation of equipment and supplies," Ratcliff said.

The transformation will mean new jobs for many of the Charlie Company soldiers whether they stay in Sikeston and become truck drivers or transfer to other battalions.

While some really loved being an engineer company, others are excited about the promotion potential. "It's really pretty promising for some of our younger soldiers," Ratcliff said. "It's going to give them some additional skills."

Ratcliff said his three years as the company's commander have been very memorable from the two-week annual training session in Panama in 2002 to the year-long deployment in Iraq and the final mission in Louisiana.

"The community support for Charlie Company has been outstanding," Ratcliff said, adding that he expects the 1221st will get the same support here.