On a snowy Monday afternoon in December, Staff Sgt. Jeremy J. Barcomb’s house in Swanzey is quiet. His sons, 1 and 3 years old, are away at day care and his girlfriend is at work. During these moments alone, Barcomb, 38, runs through a mental checklist of things to do before he leaves.
There are the cars, the heating-oil deliveries, the bills that will need to be paid. Life insurance and a will to take care of.
“It’s hard,” he said. “You feel like you have to think of all of the things that could happen while you’re gone.”
Only a few weeks before, Barcomb and the other members of the Keene-based 220th Transportation Company learned some details of their impending deployment.
They were told to be ready to pack up in early February for a month of training at Fort Devens in Mass-achusetts. There, the soldiers will practice shooting and driving, and begin classes on topics such as counter-terrorism and laws of warfare.
They’ll spend about a month each at bases in Kansas and California, where their training will include learning to operate heavy equipment transporters that can haul tanks and taking part in tactical and battle drills.
Finally, they’ll go to Camp Atterbury, Ind. — their departure point for Iraq.
The soldiers expect to be in Iraq by summer, but haven’t been told when they’ll be leaving.
Deployment isn’t anything new to Barcomb — who went to Iraq in 2003 with an Ohio-based unit — or close to 60 percent of the soldiers in the 220th. Some will be going for the third time.
But others, such as Pfc. Aidan F. Latimer, a 19-year-old recent Fall Mountain Regional High School graduate, will be deploying for the first time.
For Latimer, who joined the Army Reserves during his junior year at the Langdon high school, it’ll also be his first time outside the country.
Amidst the practical considerations of getting ready to leave, the soldiers and their families also face the emotional toll of deployment.
Whether they have girlfriends or boyfriends, spouses or children, brothers or sisters, preparing for Iraq means leaving behind loved ones.
For soldiers who usually train only monthly, it means an extended time away from jobs, friends and familiarity.
During that time, the soldiers will gain a new familiarity. They’ll learn to sleep in barracks and live out of rucksacks.
And they’ll come to support and depend on each other.
Barcomb, who served five years of active duty in the Army, knows about the bond that forms among soldiers.
The camaraderie of the military is part of what brought him back to the Army in 2000 — about five years after he’d left.
“I really missed it,” he said. “I’m going to go until they kick me out.”
In many ways, being a soldier is what he knows best.
His father served in Vietnam and his stepfather’s more than 20 years of military service kept his family moving a lot.
He enlisted in the Army after high school and was in basic training when the ground war began in the Persian Gulf in 1990.
During his enlistment, Barcomb was stationed in Virginia, Korea, and in 1993 was deployed to Somalia for several months, leaving shortly before the Battle of Mogadishu.
He entered the Reserves in 2000 and was planning to become a drill sergeant when, in 2003, he asked to be reassigned to a unit that was deploying to Iraq.
“I wanted to go as soon as I could,” he said. “I wanted to be involved and I felt left out.”
He was transferred to the Ohio-based 660th Transportation Company and went to Iraq in 2003.
Seven years later, he feels ready to go back.
But some things are different both with his family and his role in the unit.
With two young children at home, Barcomb expects this trip to Iraq to be more challenging for him.
During his previous deployment, Barcomb wrote to his two teenage children from a previous marriage, but he worries his young sons won’t understand his year-long absence.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher,” he said. “I’ve been with these two every day and soon they won’t see me for a long time.
“It’s hard with a 3-year-old, because he’s just starting to understand words and sentences.”
Barcomb has spent a lot of time with his sons over the past year, since being laid off as a driver for Cheshire Oil in April 2009.
He tried over the summer to get a full-time job with the Army at Fort Devens. When that didn’t pan out, he began working occasional shifts at the Keene Reserve base whenever he could.
Once the unit begins training this month, the soldiers in the 220th will have active status and the steady paycheck will help his family, Barcomb said.
The upcoming deployment will also bring more responsibility for Barcomb.
A recent promotion to sergeant of the unit’s Second Platoon — after the former platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Moreira of Raynham, Mass., transferred back to the unit he previously served with — means Barcomb will be overseeing between 30 and 40 soldiers.
He’s looking forward to sharing his experience with the soldiers under him.
“Seeing as how I’ve already been deployed, I’m already in that mindset,” he said. “That doesn’t take work anymore because you’ve already been there.
“But for the younger guys, you have to mentor them.”
Pfc. Latimer, who grew up in Langdon, will be one of the soldiers experiencing life in Iraq for the first time.
In January, with the departure date for training nearing, Latimer felt a mix of nervousness and excitement.
“The reasons I joined were excitement and adventure,” Latimer said. “Now, I think I’ve grown up a little bit since when I joined and that doesn’t seem as realistic to me. I don’t want to have to shoot anybody.”
Latimer was 17 when he entered the military, along with a couple of high school friends. He attended basic training between his junior and senior years of high school.
A desire to get away from a “mixed-up family situation” was one of the draws of the military, he said. He has four sisters who support him, but isn’t in touch with the rest of his family.
“The military was certainly a way to get out of that for me,” he said. “It was one of the reasons I joined and that has helped me — to at least get out and kind of get started on my own.”
The promise of help paying for college was also enticing.
In the fall, Latimer started classes at Claremont’s River Valley Community College, but had difficulty securing his military tuition benefits and left school before the end of the semester.
He plans to start school again after his deployment and hopes he’ll have time to take online classes, which are offered free for deployed soldiers, while he’s in Iraq.
“I’ve never been deployed before, so I don’t know how much spare time I’ll have,” he said.
He also doesn’t yet know how he’ll stay in touch with his friends and girlfriend, who is in the National Guard.
She is also preparing for a deployment to Iraq in about six months, and right now it looks like both their units will be heading home around the same time, Latimer said.
“I am worried about how we’ll keep in contact,” he said. “But it’s not the end of the world. I’m just trying to keep my head in the game.”
Along with all the unknowns surrounding deployment, Latimer is also grappling with his own changing views.
“I’ve tried to educate myself more and now I don’t feel the same way as when I joined,” he said.
“So that makes it a lot rougher, but I’m going to try to use it as a positive experience.”
He hopes to use some of the money he makes while in Iraq to travel afterward. And he sees the deployment as an opportunity to expand his world view.
“I’m hoping that I can just experience as much culture as I can while I’m over there,” he said. “Hopefully try to take what I can out of it.”
To prepare for the deployment, Latimer, who recently moved to Keene, has been working out in a small weight room at the Reserve base and practicing his shooting using targets at a friend’s house.
“I’m just trying to, I don’t know, hype myself up” for deployment, he said. “Really just earn the money from it and, I don’t know, at least I’ll get to go to another country.
“I’ve never done that before.”
Casey Farrar can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or email@example.com