COMBAT OUTPOST MUNOZ, Afghanistan, May 26, 2011 — “We have war stories; he has Civil War stories.” “He talks about his first squad, muskets all on line …”
His fellow infantrymen seldom run short of jokes about one noncommissioned officer here.
Army Staff Sgt. William Billett first joined the Army in January 1985, served eight years and got out. “I was out for 14 years,” he said. “Right after my son came in, I came back in.”
Billett originally served in the anti-armor infantry, and rejoined the infantry when he returned to the Army in 2006. He currently works as the operations noncommissioned officer for Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team.
Billett’s company is based in eastern Paktika province, along the border with Pakistan, but the staff sergeant performed a special duty elsewhere in Afghanistan midway through his tour.
Billett’s son, Army Sgt. Timothy Billett, recently returned to Fort Campbell, Ky., from a deployment with the division’s 1st Brigade. Billett pinned his son’s Purple Heart on him last Thanksgiving at Kabul. His son was wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle.
His son is with the military police, Billett said, but while on deployment went on patrols and effectively acted as infantry. “He’s in a close-knit unit,” he said. “It’s a pretty good bunch.”
Billett commended his wife, Beth, for her strength over the years. This deployment marked the second time both her husband and son deployed at the same time; the two also shared a tour of duty in Iraq.
“I don’t know how she does it,” he said. “I have a hard time with my son deployed. I worry about him. I don’t know how she can deal with it with both of us gone, and last time was for 15 months. She’s good.”
Billett said he had a “break in service” in his marriage, too. He and his wife divorced for five years, then remarried in 2000. “She’s a stronger person than I am,” he said. “I’ve got my head on a little bit straighter than I used to.”
Billett was 39 when he came back in the Army. He went through a five-week warrior transition course and then completed infantry advanced individual training at Fort Benning, Ga., he said.
“I’ve only got about six years left until I retire, so if my body holds out, I’ll stay,” he said. “This deployment I’ve been working operations, and I’ve only been out on one patrol. It hasn’t been too bad.”
Billett noted the changes he’s seen in the Army over the years. The only thing about the Army that’s the same now as when he first joined, he said, is the .50 caliber.
“Technologywise, it’s leaps and bounds from when I was in last time,” he said. “The mentality is different. The combat’s harder, but life back in garrison, I think, is easier.” Before the technology that put surveillance platforms and satellite phones on the battlefield, Billett said, “your job was easier, but it made it harder to coordinate. Out here, we wouldn’t be able to call for help, because radios don’t reach that far.”
The Army also is much more family oriented than it used to be, he said. “That’s a huge change. When I was in before, we would go to the field for 30, 45 days at a time every three months. Now, they pretty much don’t go for more than two weeks … which is nice. I don’t mind that at all.” Time with family is critical to today’s soldiers, Billett noted.
“Some of these guys are on their fifth deployment,” he said. “They’ve got kids that they’ve been away from more than they’ve been with, and that’s hard.” The staff sergeant said he’s looking forward to the end of his deployment, which will come in about two months.
“We’ve got a cruise booked for Nassau, the Bahamas, during block leave,” Billett said. “Then get back and pack, because we’re [moving] to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.”
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