Face of Defense: Soldier Notes 26 Years of Change

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.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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