Face of Defense: Soldier Recalls Post-9/11 Duty Tours

FORT RILEY, Kan., Sept. 9, 2011 — Dur­ing the spring and sum­mer of 2001, Army Staff Sgt. Richard LaVergne’s suit­cas­es were rarely far from the front door of his Lake Charles, La., home.

Then a mem­ber of the Louisiana Nation­al Guard’s quick reac­tion force, LaVergne, now a mem­ber of the 1st Infantry Divi­sion based here, often found him­self report­ing to the head­quar­ters of 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 156th Infantry Reg­i­ment at a moment’s notice to respond to the hur­ri­canes, floods and fires that seemed so com­mon that year. “[2001] was a very busy year,” LaVergne said.

On the morn­ing of Sept. 11, 2001, the self-described Louisiana Cajun had just returned home from work on an off­shore oil rig and was look­ing for­ward to a few qui­et days when he turned on the tele­vi­sion to “see what was going on in the world.”

LaVergne then saw the sec­ond plane hit the South Tow­er of the World Trade Cen­ter in New York.

“When the sec­ond plane hit, my wife turned and looked at me and I just said, ‘I’ve got to go,’ ” LaVergne said. “I knew imme­di­ate­ly there was some­thing bad going on, so I grabbed my bags and head­ed to the bat­tal­ion.”

By the time LaVergne arrived at bat­tal­ion head­quar­ters, 20 oth­er QRF sol­diers were already there.

“It was just a habit to grab our bags and go,” he said. “We were ready to do what­ev­er they need­ed us to do, but we had no idea what was going to hap­pen next.”

Stand­ing in a qui­et group in the battalion’s drill area, LaVergne and the rest of the sol­diers watched tele­vised reports of the plane that hit the Pen­ta­gon and lis­tened to reporters relay infor­ma­tion about a plane going down in Penn­syl­va­nia.

“It was a long wait­ing game,” LaVergne said. “We all got sent home that night, but with­in the week we all had orders to go out and sup­port units that were being tapped to go to Afghanistan.”

LaVergne was attached to a Louisiana Nation­al Guard trans­porta­tion unit that was slat­ed to go to Afghanistan. The unit’s orders were pulled just as the sol­diers were step­ping onto the air­craft.

LaVergne’s first deploy­ment didn’t come until 2003 when he crossed the berm into Iraq just behind the 4th Infantry Divi­sion. That deploy­ment was the first of five vis­its to Iraq that LaVergne would make dur­ing the next eight years.

“The first time I went over, I went because it is my duty,” he said. “I’m a U.S. sol­dier, I train to fight and I fight. If a war breaks out and a sol­dier doesn’t go fight, it’s like leav­ing a fire extin­guish­er in the cor­ner as a fire rages all around it.”

Much time has passed. LaVergne sits down to relax on a couch in his house and relay sto­ries of his duty tours in Iraq. He reflects on the Iraqi wed­dings he’s attend­ed, pulling perime­ter secu­ri­ty duty, the cap­ture of Sad­dam Hus­sein, and oth­er events.

LaVergne said his wife, Patri­cia, has grown in strength and inde­pen­dence dur­ing his absences, and he basks in pride at how his 6-year-old son has helped his moth­er.

The much-deployed sol­dier also recalled when he escort­ed Sad­dam Hussein’s pros­e­cu­tors, griev­ed for the nine mem­bers of his com­pa­ny who were killed by an impro­vised explo­sive device, and oth­er Iraq mem­o­ries.

Now, LaVergne’s bags are again packed and ready as he awaits word on his next deploy­ment, this time with the 1st Infantry Division’s Sus­tain­ment Brigade. While many things have changed since 9/11, LaVergne said his com­mit­ment to serv­ing his coun­try remains as sol­id as it was a decade ago, when he sat down on his couch to watch the morn­ing news.

“I have been deployed five times and will not stop until they don’t let me go any­more or all of our sol­diers come home,” he said. “This is a hard life, but it is a life I love.”

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