By Patrick Winderl and Tim Leeds Havre Daily News
A number of local soldiers in the Montana Army National Guard have had to put their civilian lives on hold in order to serve their country overseas.
Among the soldiers who have been called up to serve with a Kalispell-based supply unit are a youth probation officer from Havre and a college student from Rocky Boy.
"The separation from family will be the most difficult (part of being deployed)," said Kevin Buerkle, a sergeant in the National Guard. "I believe they are as supportive as they can be. We prepared for it as best we can, and we'll go from there."
Buerkle said he found out he was going to be deployed when his name was posted on a list last Friday during soldier readiness processing in Helena.
Buerkle, 37, who is a youth probation officer, was in Helena with other members of the Billings-based 443rd Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants Supply Company. About 20 of the unit's soldiers from the Havre and Chinook detachments were ordered to report to Helena to prepare for possible deployment. A number of those who attended the three-day processing were ultimately called up to serve with the Kalispell-based 639th Quartermaster Supply Company.
The company had about 50 vacancies that needed to be filled before the unit could be deployed, National Guard public information officer Maj. Scott Smith said last week. The 443rd was one of about a half dozen units identified as having possible replacements, he said.
A 19-year veteran of the National Guard, Buerkle said he was not surprised that some soldiers from the 443rd were selected to fill the vacant spots in the 639th.
"We had kind of expected it, so, no, we weren't really surprised," he said.
Buerkle, a fuel supply specialist, will work in a platoon providing fuel to other units. He does not know where or even how long he will be deployed.
"We haven't even received our orders yet, so we're not sure of the length," he said. "We were told it could be up to two years."
Buerkle, who is married and has a young daughter, will be sent to Kalispell to join the 639th, then to Fort Carson, Colo., for final preparations before being deployed overseas.
"We'll be preparing our personal equipment and taking classes, getting our gear to go," he said.
Buerkle said he is not sure how often he will be able to contact his wife, Darcey, and daughter once he is overseas.
"All we've been told is that there is Internet access," he said.
The probation officer said Havre has shown strong support for its soldiers.
"I believe there's support in the community, and when we actually leave, that it will continue," he said.
Another soldier from the 443rd, Pfc. Chauncey Parker, said he has gotten used to the idea of being deployed.
"When I first got the news, I was a little distraught, I guess," said Parker, 21, who lives on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. "But I sort of figured out after a while my time would come up, so now I'm just ready to go."
The deployment is interrupting Parker's sophomore year at Carroll College in Helena, where he is studying political science. Parker said he intends to go into law school once he graduates from Carroll.
He said he intends to finish this semester while he is on active duty.
"Right now I am talking with my academic adviser. We're trying to get it so I can finish off my courses over the Internet," he said.
Parker said that after this semester, he plans to wait until he returns to the United States to finish his degree.
His parents, Robert and Janice Parker, and his brother, Waycee, 16, were a little upset when he told them he would be activated, Parker said.
"But they have come to terms with what I have to do," he added.
He said he will probably serve the 639th Quartermaster Company in the same capacity he serves in the 443rd, as a petroleum supply specialist.
"I would be retailing fuel," he said.
Timothy Callahan of Havre, a divorced father of two, said his children, Brittany, 17, and Ryan, 14, took the news of his overseas deployment pretty well.
"We have gone over it in the past, that something like this could happen. It's unlikely, but anytime you are in the military you can be called," he said. "I am actually ready to go. I've always told myself it's a possibility."
Callahan has gone on active duty many times in his 23-year career in the Guard. He has worked at Tire-Rama for 25 years, and said his boss, Robin Toner, has always been supportive. She is supportive about this deployment too, he added.
His job is guaranteed when he returns, Callahan said.
He will serve as a crane operator with the Kalispell unit.