North Crawford graduate and Soldiers Grove native Misty Hirschfield left for Afghanistan recently on a second deployment to the Middle East with the National Guard.
Misty experienced her first deployment to Iraq at the age of 19. She wasn’t getting the stimulation she was looking for with her experience at UW-LaCrosse.
“Everybody else was going on this path they wanted to go on,” Misty said. “This seemed more intriguing than the standard going to college and getting a job.”
The deployment process was a quick one for Misty.
“I literally signed up and it was less than a week later, I was already gone,” Misty recalled. “So, it’s a fast route, I dropped out of school, and stopped at a recruiter’s office on my way home, and was gone a week later.”
The unexpected decision, although exciting for Misty, did not go over so well initially with her family.
“I told my mom as I was on my way to training in Missouri,” Misty remembered. “She had no idea I left, it was that quick and abrupt that nobody knew, I just wanted to do something on my own.”
During her first deployment, Misty worked with detainee operations, guarding detained Iraqi prisoners. She worked 14-hour shifts each day, in three different camps.
The deployment allowed Misty, a born-and-raised resident of the Kickapoo Valley, an opportunity to see parts of the world that she may not have been able to experience otherwise. In addition to Iraq, she also spent time in Kuwait, Germany, and South America.
It was a noticeably different situation for Misty leaving the comforts of her small town during the first deployment.
“You grow up around here, and you know everybody and everybody knows you, and you step off the plane and you think ‘Where the heck am I?’” Misty explained. “Going places like Iraq makes you appreciate what you have. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Misty fulfilled her six-year obligation this past October, leading her to make the decision to extend it through this last deployment to decide if she wanted, in fact, to remain with the National Guard. She explained that the decision to extend will lead to having the opportunity to further her education and give her daughter a better life.
"I wanted to keep going and get other degrees, so their school benefits were a big part of it," Misty noted. "The second reason, and probably the biggest part of it, is I have a two-year-old, and I wanted to provide more for my family. Deployments do that, they open doors."
Misty is a part of the 829th Engineer Company out of Richland Center. She and more than 160 other soldiers will deploy to southern Afghanistan to conduct a deconstruction and material reclamation mission, according to the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs.
The main responsibility of this mission will be to tear down ‘forward’ operating bases, reclaiming materials and equipment accumulated by coalition forces throughout the war, thereby denying the enemy use of those materials and recovering U.S. property.
The local soldier will be returning overseas this round as a sergeant, responsible for a unit of other soldiers.
“My mind has to leave home at home, I can think of them, but I’m responsible for six other people and their lives and their families,” said Misty.
In a way, Misty feels being a mother has prepared her for the new leadership role, although she is quick to point out they are not her children and she does not need to treat them like her kids. However, she is responsible for their safety and wellbeing, an experience she already has from being a mother.
"It’s hard," said Misty of her current deployment. Traveling to El Salvador earlier this year, Misty spent some time away from home for training.
"We've known about it for awhile, but other units were getting kicked off so we weren’t sure if we were really going," Misty explained. Out of the entire State of Wisconsin, only Misty’s unit and Sussex-based Battery A of the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment have actually deployed.
Battery A's mission will be to provide artillery fire support for coalition forces operating in Afghanistan, according to the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs. Battery A will be the second Wisconsin Army National Guard artillery battery to conduct a combat fire mission in Afghanistan.
"Now that it is happening, its really scary," Misty acknowledged. “This mission could potentially be a lot more dangerous, I’m not even looking to five or ten years from now, I’m just looking to get this next year over, make sure I come home safe and my daughter has a mom to come home to.”
Technology is credited as a useful tool for soldiers like Misty to make sure they have contact with their families. This will be even more critical this time around as she leaves behind a very young child.
During her first deployment, Misty had access to morale, wellness, and recreation tents, where she was able to access the internet, including a voicemail on Skype, allowing her to feel more connected with family.
Misty will be in more remote areas during this deployment, unsure if she will even have electricity most of the time, making steady communication with those at home an issue. Steps have been taken though, to ensure her little girl will be able to hear her voice and see her face.
“I have made scrapbooks with photos of just her and me, and I recorded two books with my voice reading to her,” the young mother and soldier explained.
Misty’s daughter, Alyssa, who is two, will be with Misty’s fiancé Matt, who she met during her first deployment.
“She knows that mommy is going to get the bad guys,” said Misty of her daughter.
Having a fiancé with military experience has helped Misty as well.
“That’s the great thing about Matt, he knows what to expect and can help quite a bit in that area with knowing what to tell her,” Misty said.
When her boots hit the ground though, Misty knows that she will have to separate herself from her home life in order to succeed on her mission.
“Once you put the uniform on, it’s a completely different game face, it’s a different mentality,” Misty said of leaving this time as a mother. “You know the mission, you know what to do. You learn to shut off your emotions. It’s the part that’s leading up to it where the emotions are at full level.”
Many other soldiers in her unit are also parents and they offer support to one another.
“I’m not alone, so that makes it a lot more comforting,” said Misty of the other parents in her unit.
Misty will also have plenty of support during her absence from her family and community, a perk of her previous experience being away.
“The support system I have from my family is great though, they understand how crazy the communication is,” Misty said.
Leaving home for military families and actual active duty time are not the only hurdles. Coming home can be difficult for soldiers as well.
“Reintegration is probably the hardest thing to do,” Misty noted. “You kind of forget how to act, even driving a car for the first time can be really difficult, a lot of people really struggle.”
Once back, the army offers options to soldiers through a three-phase process to assist with the reintegration process, including family seminars that help soldiers relearn how to live civilian life with their families. Alcohol awareness classes are also offered.
“I didn’t struggle personally with it (post traumatic stress) the first time, but I know a lot of people did,” Misty said.
It was the little things for Misty upon getting back that helped her reintegrate and feel like a civilian again.
“Having time to shower was a big one,” she explained. “When you’re over there you try to conserve water, you’re lucky to get a five-minute shower with hopefully hot water.”
Misty did note that after going without certain small luxuries she found herself more aware of what people around her take for granted.
“It’s hard to reintegrate with the fact you do get so easily upset and annoyed by small things that shouldn’t make you upset,” Misty explained. “Little thing people take for granted that shouldn’t be a big deal when you look at the big picture can annoy you.”
Upon returning from this deployment, Misty plans to pursue a bachelors degree and become a history teacher.
“I want to shape young minds, it’s my main desire to teach.” Misty credits retired North Crawford art teacher Joni Peterson and her father Gene Moran, as well as North Crawford history teacher John Armbruster, as being inspirations for her.
“You don’t really realize it at the time, growing up, but these are who you want to be, you want to be like the people who shaped your mind,” Misty noted.
Misty also plans to walk down the aisle with Matt and become Mrs. Johnson in October after she returns.
“I am excited, and nervous. I’m looking forward to coming home and just being a mom.”