Vietnam vet expects deployment to Iraq

At 20, Russ Earnest joined the Navy and went to Vietnam. At 53, Earnest will again serve his country overseas.

"As Nevada National Guard, I always stand a chance of going," said Earnest. "I have been eligible ever since I re-enlisted, but did I expect the U.S. to be in war at my age?

"I don't want to say, 'Pick me,' but I go where I'm sent. Someone has to haul bullets and beans - the Army has to eat," he said.

His company specializes in hauling fuel. They'll spend a year somewhere in Kuwait and Iraq performing cargo missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"I'm the motor sergeant for the 593rd Transportation Co.," Earnest said. "When we go to Iraq, we will support the 82nd Airborne Brigade - they're the active duty Army. We'll be their only supporting transportation outfit."

He is a civilian technician for the military Department of Defense and is a welder and machinist for the Combined Support Maintenance shop in Carson City. Earnest is also part of the Nevada Army National Guard.

"Three weeks ago we got our mobilization order," he said. "You get an alert order first and then you get your mobilization order. We go on the 4th of July - how about that?"

Earnest said he enlisted in the Navy in 1971 because there wasn't a whole lot going on in Idaho at the time. Most of the men in his family were veterans.

"My father was a gunner's mate in the Navy in World War II," said Earnest. "My uncles were in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Rangers. My cousins went into either the Navy or Army. I'm the only one left in the family that has pursued the military and I decided to make it a career."

Earnest went through Navy basic training at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., and in 1972 went to Da Nang during the evacuation on a C-130 Marine transport.

His job as a troubleshooter in Vietnam was to deliver jets and report jet attack aircraft. When he was discharged in 1975, Earnest went back to Idaho.

"I wasn't welcomed home with open arms but then I came from a farming community," he said. "People are strong and they stand for something."

He said what support he was shown might not have been there if he was a returning soldier to a big city in the 1970s, but many people from his town had served in the military.

Earnest said that after he came home from Vietnam, he would be acknowledged with, "Glad to see you're home. I'll buy you a cup of coffee.

"These days there are a few liberals who think, 'bad man, bad man,' but you have Korea and World War II vets who say, 'thanks very much,'" he said.

"Right here in Gardnerville, when I go out in my uniform, people say 'hey, how are you doing?' This is small town U.S.A. - everyone likes me."

Earnest said after he was discharged from the Navy he took a 15-year sabbatical.

"I enlisted during Desert Storm in 1990," he said. "If you were good enough, you went back in."

He went into a maintenance company but Desert Storm wound down before he saw any action.

"It was 28 years since the U.S. was involved in any major engagement," Earnest said. "Desert Storm was a 100 days' war. We marched in and marched out.

"I support my state and country. When you take an oath, it's like a marriage decree. In the Guard, it's like being part of a team, part of a family. We're not part-time, we want to be there."

Although Earnest said some guys are only in the military for the "good times."

"We've slept on the ground in tents together during training and now they say, 'I don't want to go, I only did it for the education,'" he said. "But it was bound to happen (going to war after Sept. 11). I took an oath and I believe in it."

"What was done during 9-11 wasn't different than what happened at Pearl Harbor. They came over here - I don't care who it was. They crashed two jets and killed thousands of people who had no right to die."

To get ready for his mission, Earnest works out at least four days a week on a treadmill, elliptical machine and with weights.

"I also keep a strong mental attitude," he said.

After they leave Reno, Earnest and his unit will train for 60-90 days at Fort Bliss, Texas, next to the Mexican border. At 120 degrees, it will be good training for when they are based in Kuwait and Iraq.

"It's hard for me to keep up with the kids," said Earnest. "The energy level is different. They get tired but Russ is really tired."

"He's very versatile," said Earnest's wife Diane Earnest. "He'll do well. He's a good soldier."

Earnest has been getting their house ready for his possible 18 months absence. He's remodeled bathrooms, painted the house and bought new appliances.

"Along with getting physically fit and ready to go, there's mental preparation and you have to let your spouse know what to expect about the bills and responsibilities," Earnest said.

It's just Russ and Diane Earnest at home now. Diane Earnest plans to keep busy at her job at the Community Health Nursing Clinic in Gardnerville and to go back to college to take Spanish and maybe criminal justice.

"I don't know what I'd do if we had small children at home," said Diane Earnest. "The military people with families are amazing.

"Russ had been alerted before but it never was carved in granite," she said about his possibility of being called to go overseas. "I wasn't surprised but it was a hollow feeling."

Russ Earnest said he was in the backyard and heard the answer machine, "Sergeant Earnest has received mobilization orders. Report July Fourth..."

"I said, 'That's a holiday. Can they do that?'" said Diane Earnest.

"We're the only unit mobilizing on July Fourth," said Russ Earnest. "The state of Nevada, the Battle Born State."

The 593rd will have 170 people maximum, 25 percent women. The ages range from 18-54.

Earnest said there would have been a different outcome in Vietnam if they let a soldier do a soldier's job.

"Vietnam was becoming too political," he said. "But concentrating on Baghdad, there's 1.5 million people controlled by four 'gangs.' We have a squeeze plan on Iran. Listen, we have to keep people under control so they don't nuke anyone. Does anyone trust Iran?

"I pray it will be over with quick and all of our people can come home," he said.

While he is gone, Russ and Diane Earnest will communicate with e-mail. He said there are Internet cafes, phones and phone cards there.

One of the first things Russ will do once he's in the country will be to find how long until he can request leave. The plan is to meet his wife at Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany for a couple of weeks sometime during his stay.

"Diane supports me 100 percent," said Earnest. "In May, I'm buying her a new riding lawn mower with a cup holder."


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