CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – In 2005, Pvt. Kenneth Geib and Spc. Timothy Olsen were in Tikrit, Iraq, turning wrenches for Staff Sgt. Edgar Ponce in the maintenance section of the 42nd Infantry Division.
Fifteen years later, Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Geib, Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Olsen and Master Sgt. Edgar Ponce are together again in the 42nd Infantry Division on deployment.
But now, the three senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) spend their deployment days indoors doing administrative logistical and financial work as part of the 42nd Infantry Division’s Intelligence and Sustainment Company.
What hasn’t changed, the three men agreed, is they still like working together.
“I was very excited to get back together,” Ponce said. “It’s kind of almost like a family reunion.”
In 2005, Geib was a private, fresh out of basic training.
He came into the 42nd’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company as a mechanic. Geib was pulled out of basic training early to join his unit for the deployment.
“I was the newest Soldier to come to the division,” said Geib. “It was a little nerve-racking … but it was a pretty neat experience. It was a little difficult at first because my experience level was very low, but as time went on, I had time to work with my team members (Ponce and Olsen) and get used to the deployed life.”
“I’m a private first class,” Geib told an Army journalist back during his first deployment. “I’ve got the easiest job in the world. All I’ve got to do is do what I’m told.”
In 2005, the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters and support elements deployed to Tikrit to provide mission command for almost 23,000 Active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve elements deployed in four Iraqi provinces north of Baghdad.
As Task Force Liberty, the 42nd Infantry Division team commanded combat operations across the region and played a key role in the Iraq elections in the fall of 2005.
Geib, Olsen and Ponce were among 3,500 New York Army National Guard Soldiers deployed to Iraq in 2005, part of an overall U.S. Army force of 132,000 men and women.
Gelb said he learned a lot from the two more experienced Soldiers back then.
Now, with more experience himself, he can give more back to the team, he added.
“Then, I was grasping a lot of their knowledge and building camaraderie with them. Now, the relationship has evened out to where we all learn from each other.
Ponce remembers the challenges of serving in Iraq in the middle of a war.
“Besides the maintenance work, we also transported stuff between Forward Operating Base Danger (FOB) and FOB Speicher,” Ponce said, referring to another 42nd Infantry Division location in Tikrit.
He and Olsen did a lot of convoy duty, Ponce recalled. “We were at the company level, but it was a very tight-knit group”, he recalled.
“It was combat,” said Olsen. “There were things going on, imminent danger going on outside the post … so that was a little more intense than this atmosphere is.”
In their 2020 deployment, the 42nd ID took command of Task Force Spartan, which is comprised of 10,000 active Army, Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve units that provide a U.S. military posture in Southwest Asia.
The Soldiers supporting Task Force Spartan provide capabilities such as aviation, logistics, force protection and information management. They also facilitate theater security cooperation activities such as key leader engagements, joint exercises, conferences, symposia and humanitarian assistance/disaster response planning.
Ponce now is a parts manager who supports the maintenance of equipment; Olsen is a logistics supervisor; and Geib is the senior NCO in charge of the division’s finance section.
“Master Sgt. Ponce is a very cool, calm and collected leader. He’s very good at providing information in a calm understandable way when things are a little hectic. He always seems to keep his cool,” said Geib.
For 15 years, the NCOs have watched their children grow, had grandchildren, and deployed to the Middle East multiple times.
However, they also have missed first crawls, birthdays and high school sporting events. But at the end of this deployment, they will continue to proudly serve in the New York Army National Guard.
“I had a son that was 1 (year old) when I deployed last time, and now I’m deploying 15 years later, I’m married, I have a house, and I have a daughter that just turned 1. It’s changed and I have a bigger family, but it’s kind of funny because both my kids from 1-2, I’ve been gone for the 42nd,” added Olsen.
Ponce also had a 1-year-old on the last deployment. His granddaughter just turned 2. “I have a larger family. I have three kids and a dog.”
His job back then was “more hands-on, where here was more of operational logistics,” said Ponce.
Now, the three Soldiers all work in the Intel and Sustainment Company. Their jobs have changed from working in a motor pool to working administratively.
While this is unexpected, they look forward to working together on this deployment and are glad to be a part of it as a team once again.
“If you asked me 15 years ago if I thought I’d be in this same place, with the same people, in the same unit, I wouldn’t have ever believed it would happen,” said Olsen.