Mother, son prepare for Afghanistan

Published 12:30 am Monday, August 2, 2010

NATCHEZ — Sheila and Montrell Chatman both joined the U.S. Army for job security, and after 25 years of service between this mother and son duo, they haven’t regretted it once.

The two Natchez natives will be deployed to separate bases in Afghanistan sometime this fall.

“I know I will be at Forward Operation Base Shank,” Sheila said. “Due to the nature of his job, he will be at an air station, and I will not.”

Sheila, a human resource specialist with 20 years in the Army who has never been deployed, said she doesn’t expect her work in Afghanistan to be much different from what she does on the home front.

“We train weekly, no matter where we are staying, in both peacetime and wartime,” said Sheila, who has an associate degree in business administration. “I will just be ready to react, like we’re trained to do.”

Montrell, a flight operations specialist, has been deployed to Iraq before but has never been to Afghanistan.

“My view from being in Iraq is different from what is said on the TV,” he said. “It wasn’t as bad as some people make it out to be.”

Montrell said deployments last for approximately a year, and he was looking forward to getting there.

“I think it will be a good experience,” he said. “I’ll use what I learned from the first deployment to help me out.”

While in Afghanistan, Montrell, who has been in the Army for five years, will be working online in his spare time toward completing his degree.

“I’m majoring in aeronautical science,” he said. “I want to be a helicopter pilot. I work with a lot of pilots and many of them have encouraged me to go for it. They tell me I have a lot of good qualities that help with piloting.”

Sheila said the military gave her family many opportunities they would not have received otherwise.

“I was a single mother of two, and I thought it would be a stable life for my children and I,” she said. “It has lived up to that and more.”

By her second enlistment, she knew she was going to make a career out of it.

“I saw a lot of potential to do the things I like to do, such as travel and do something different every now and then,” Sheila said. “I knew what to expect with my job.”

Even though Sheila loves the Army, she didn’t encourage Montrell to join.

“She did the exact opposite of encouraging me,” Montrell said.

“It wasn’t because I did not think he could handle it,” she said. “He is just a very smart, a very intelligent young man, and I thought he’d do better going through college.

“I think it was his thirst for adventure that made him join the Army.”

Montrell said with the way the economy turned out, he was happy with his choice.

“If I had gone to college, I may not have been able to get a job,” he said.

Growing up in a military family and knowing what to expect, Montrell, who is stationed at Fort Drum in N.Y., said he felt like the Army was the better choice for him.

“The lifestyle and adventure had grown on me,” he said. “It has worked out great. I plan to make a career of it.”

When Sheila gets back from Afghanistan, she plans to retire.

“It has been an adventure,” she said. “I really do love what I have been doing for the last 20 years, but I am looking forward to retirement.”

When she retires, she plans to return to Natchez, so that her youngest son can graduate from Natchez High School, then she will move to Houston.

“I have a lot of classmates and friends from Natchez who moved to that area,” she said.

The Chatmans were in Natchez at the 31st annual Chatman Family Reunion during the weekend.

“I am always excited to come here and be with family,” Sheila said. “This year, I am even more excited to be with family in anticipation of going off to Afghanistan in the fall.”