Transportation company working hard in Afghanistan

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 12, 2012

ROD GUAJARDO | The Natchez Democrat Ashton Bruce, from left, Linda Tarver, Auston Bruce and McKinley Malcomb hold a picture of Sgt. Thomas Tarver, who is currently serving in Afghanistan. 1086 Lousiana National Guard soldiers include, at top from left, Sgt. Michael Jenkins, SPC. Megan Aucoin, PSC. Harley Fontenot and Sgt. Thomas Tarver in Afghanistan. Jenkins and Tarver are both from Vidalia.

NATCHEZ — It’s 8 a.m. in the Miss-Lou and residents are just getting started on another day at the office.

But as local workers deal with the hassles of another day at work, Vidalia-native Sgt. Thomas Tarver along with a handful of other Miss-Lou residents are starting their days off in much different circumstances.

Tarver’s workday begins at night in bitter cold temperatures. He and the other members of the 1086 Louisiana National Guard Unit have to deal with ice and a couple of feet of snow each evening as they head out to attempt to complete their transportation missions that involve making it to and from several different military bases.

The 1086th transportation unit was deployed to Afghanistan in September, and the deployment marked Tarver’s third overseas tour.

Part of Tarver’s responsibilities in the unit is to drive a truck in the transportation convoys, and the inclement weather is making his duties much more difficult, his mother Linda Tarver said.

“(Tuesday) they left and he said there was a lot of ice, but they tried to (make their run) anyway,” Linda said. “They traveled about 20 miles and had about 20 miles to go, but they had to come back. Thomas said he slid into a car of Afghans, because he couldn’t stop, and they got real mad at him. They realized they better not try it.”

Linda said the unit had several camps to deliver to, but they were snowed in at the first camp.

The unit keeps quiet about the details of their missions and even family members are not privy to much information about specifics, Linda said.

“In Iraq they were guarding convoys,” she said. “But now I don’t really know. They aren’t allowed to say anything on the computer, and they are scared to say anything on the phones too.”

Linda said when the unit is not trying to battle through the snow and ice to make their drops, Thomas spends his days passing the time.

“At the camp he just works out and does stuff like that,” she said. “They are all aggravated because it’s snowing and it’s cold, and they are not used to it.”

Linda said Thomas joined the National Guard when he was 19 and in 13 years he has made his way up the ranks from private to sergeant.

He has been to Iraq twice, Afghanistan and helped with natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

“He said it was more dangerous in New Orleans than overseas,” Linda said.

Linda said that she gets to talk to Thomas quite often on the computer and through text messages, and he hopes to take his two-week leave in February, although the bad weather has put that trip home in jeopardy.

Linda said Thomas misses several things about home, including the comforts of his mother’s food and his family.

“He misses my cooking,” she said. “He was talking (Wednesday) about my steak and gravy. And he misses his nieces and nephews.”

Linda said Thomas and his nieces Ashton Bruce, 14, and McKinley Malcomb, 9, and nephew Auston Bruce, 9, are very close. Linda said he is also close with his sisters Veronica Bruce, Mandy Tarver and Tina Malcomb and his brother Stephen Tarver, who also served overseas in the Army.

“(He talks) to them all the time,” Linda said. “He buys them stuff all the time. He posts on Veronica’s (Facebook) wall, and he posts on Ashton’s wall and tells her, “I will take you shopping when I get back.’”

Vidalia-native Michael Jenkins could not wait to start serving his country.

Jenkins was still in high school and not even 18 years of age when he signed up to serve.

“It was a month before he turned 18,” his mother Tanya Jenkins said. “He just said he wanted to go be a part of the National Guard, and I couldn’t talk him out of it.”

Tanya said her son liked the idea of helping people, and that is one of the aspects of his military job that he enjoys.

“I think he enjoys people and helping out in any way he can,” she said. “He’s been in it so long he’s done everything. He’s helped with hurricanes, and he just enjoys people.”

Michael has earned his way up to sergeant after 12 years in the service, Tanya said.

Tanya said she has not spoken with her son in a couple of weeks, but she knows that the weather is forcing his missions to take longer than expected.

She said that she knows Michael misses his 10-year-old son Caleb and his fiancé Anne Harris. She also said she does not know what Michael’s future plans are once his military service is done.

“I assume he’s going to get married and go back to his old job,” she said. “He worked at Natchez Ford as a salesman. He’s had (that job) for a long time.”

Vidalia-native John Dale Loomis’ daily duties have changed since he suffered several injuries from a bomb explosion late last year.

Loomis received a Purple Heart for his injuries, which included a broken nose, concussion and laceration to his chin, and is now seeing more time behind a desk since his injury. But his mother, Amy Dewitt, said office work is not John Dale’s cup of tea.

“He’s not an office-type person,” she said. “He doesn’t like sitting still. I think office duties have been good to make him understand that he’s not meant to be behind a desk. He likes to be out moving.”

Dewitt said her son has always wanted to be a state trooper or work as an officer for the department of wildlife, and she said joining the National Guard was a way for him to achieve those goals.

“His first thought was he wanted to serve his country,” she said. “Since 9/11 he knew what he wanted to do. He first started talking about going into the Air Force as something more long-term, but he knew he wanted to do criminal justice. As far as trying to do both, this seemed to best fit his lifestyle as far as serving his country and still having his own identity as far as going to school.”

Dewitt said she thought the cold weather would be a welcome occurrence for her son, but he is just as miserable as the other Louisiananians in the cold.

“He always wanted to be somewhere where there was snow, until you get 15 inches of it, and he realized it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Dewitt said Loomis misses many things back home but mostly he misses the little things.

“He has definitely missed hunting,” she said. “He’s a big hunter. He missed all the LSU football games, and he misses being with friends. We’re hoping to have him home in March and have crawfish and be able to do family things like that. As far as the day-to-day stuff, he misses the fact that he can’t go to McDonald’s or Subway if he wants to.”

Dewitt said Loomis understands his role as a small part to the big mission.

“Whatever little part he can play in the whole war scheme he is interested in helping out,” she said.

Captain Mike Stevens has been with the National Guard for nearly 20 years, and his high ranking makes him even more weary of divulging information about the 1086’s missions, his mother Kathleen Stevens said.

“He does not give out information,” Kathleen said. “He doesn’t tell me or his dad.”

Kathleen said Mike’s responsibility is the men and women who serve under him, and he has their safety in mind at all times.

“As a commander he is not at liberty to tell us,” she said. “He is very cautious for the safety of his people.”

Mike joined the National Guard when he was just 17 years old, his mother said. Kathleen said the Stevens family has always been a military family. Mike’s father Vernon is retired from the military, and his brother is also in the National Guard.

She said Mike is generally very busy and does not have much time to relax around his day-to-day duties but when he does he tries to bring a little taste of Louisiana to the camp.

“He makes red beans and rice occasionally,” Kathleen said. “He tries to cook at times.”