When Rebecca Segovia-Johnson of Jefferson City signed a 6-year contract with the Missouri National Guard more than 23 years ago, she thought she would finish her college degree, serve a few years as a medic and then open her own art studio. She did not see herself as a full-time Guardsman in medical operations.
Garrett Poole joined the National Guard straight out of high school, and he had every intention of getting a college education, then entering the military full time. Now a police officer with the Fulton Police Department, he loves his civilian lifestyle with his wife and has yet to finish his college degree.
Sarah Lupescu persuaded her parents to sign the release form allowing her to join the National Guard when she was 17. Her motivation was full tuition coverage. She planned to study nursing at MU, but she never thought that a random job choice with the National Guard would lead to a different passion she wanted to turn into a career.
In June, all three will join a military mission in Kosovo. They are among the 1,100 Missouri Guardsmen deployed as a part of the 10th rotation of the NATO-led Kosovo Force, a peacekeeping mission in the region.
As they enter the final stages of preparation, the three soldiers must come to terms with the fact that they will be taken from their families and friends to spend more than a year in a war-torn nation.
On March 6, Missouri’s National Guardsmen began moving to pre-mobilization camps around the state. On Saturday, the entire group will gather in Columbia one last time to be honored by the National Guard and the public at a departure ceremony.
The event will take place at 11 a.m. at MU’s Hearnes Center. After the ceremony, the soldiers will move to Camp Atterbury in Indiana for two months of training before heading to Germany, and finally to Kosovo in June.
Sgt. Garrett Poole, 27
Officer with the Fulton Police Department
Has served 8 years
Served in Iraq for 15 months starting in 2003
Garrett Poole and his wife, Susan, made sure to stop at the movie rental store to pay off their late fees.
It was one of many things on a checklist the two had created to organize the last two weeks before Garrett left for mobilization training.
This is his third deployment with the National Guard since he joined just out of high school eight years ago, and both he and his wife have refined the process of getting ready.
“Once you find out, you start getting prepared, in a mental way,” Poole said. “At first there’s a lot of talking about it. Then as the time gets closer, you start your real prep with things like getting your contracts taken care of and buying the items you need.”
After he had completed his checklist, Poole took time off work to spend with friends and family.
While Poole, who comes from a long line of military men, always thought he would see the world through the eyes of a soldier, he did not expect to have a satisfying civilian lifestyle as well.
“I originally joined the National Guard with every intention of going into active duty (with the Army) but go to college first,” he said.
His plans have changed. As a police officer in the Fulton Police Department, he loves coming home at night to his wife of four years.
“I want to stay in the National Guard for the rest of my career now and still have my civilian work,” he said. “The National Guard has given me everything I wanted. I have no regrets.”
Originally a bridge engineer for the Guard, Poole is now a member of the 3175th Military Police Company in Warrenton.
The change in job description has not seemed to faze the couple.
“You’re always a little scared,” Poole said, but as his wife points out, there is daily danger in being a civilian police officer. She is used to worrying a little bit.
Poole said spending time with his wife was his No. 1 priority before deployment, “whether that’s wandering around the mall, going to see a movie or getting things on the list.”
“I talk to him every day that he’s here, so it’s a change when he’s not,” Susan Poole said. Her husband said he is proud of her self-sufficiency.
Along with paying off movie rental fees, the couple recently purchased a new laptop and a large stack of DVDs to remind him of home.
“Stuff to keep my sanity,” Poole explained.
Lt. Col. Rebecca Segovia-Johnson, 46
Medical Operations Officer
Full-time Guardsman, deputy commander
Has served 23½ years
First international deployment
In 1984, when Rebecca Segovia-Johnson first told her father that she and her two sisters had joined the National Guard, he was not happy.
She now calls her father, a Korean War veteran, one of her biggest supporters.
Nothing has worked out quite the way Segovia-Johnson thought it would nearly 24 years ago.
It never crossed her mind, for example, that she would be deployed to Kosovo in a leadership role as part of NATO’s peacekeeping forces.
“We were not a nation at war at that time, and we had not sent National Guardsmen overseas in that capacity in decades,” she said. “That didn’t become a reality until after 9/11.”
Fewer than 10 people in the state can perform her duties as a medical operations officer. Some have been shipped elsewhere, which left her on the list for Kosovo.
As an art student in Kansas City in the 1980s, Segovia-Johnson had aspirations of owning an art store where she would create and sell original weaving and airbrush works.
Patriotism, as well as 10 uncles in different branches of the military, inspired her to let one of her uncles, a Guardsman himself, swear her in.
Choosing medicine because she thought it sounded interesting, she found herself moving up through the ranks and enjoying the new educational opportunities. It was not until she was recommended for officer candidate school that she really considered the National Guard as a career. She went full time eight years ago.
Now a medical operations officer with the 10th Combat Support Brigade in Jefferson City, Segovia-Johnson has taken the last two weeks off work to make the final preparations for her first international assignment.
While she has been mobilized stateside in the past and internationally for short humanitarian efforts, “this deployment will definitely be the longest I will have been away from home,” she said.
“I’ve been in this 23 years, and when you’re sending people out, you want to put all your training, all you’ve learned, into play in the real world,” she said.
When she first learned about the deployment last year, she and her husband decided not to tell the children until Christmas.
The major stress of the deployment was what to do about 13-year-old daughter, Maggie, still at home.
Segovia-Johnson’s husband, also a Guardsman, travels a great deal for the military and can’t guarantee he will always be home. They were considering moving Maggie to Kansas City, where her grandmother and aunt live, when their oldest daughter decided to move to Jefferson City a month ago.
“It’s great because she doesn’t have to deal with moving and me being gone at the same time,” Segovia-Johnson said.
Her husband’s deployment to Kuwait in 2004 taught her what needed to be done before leaving the family for a year.
It meant putting her husband through a mini-boot camp to learn her filing system, getting all the contracts in order and starting a trust for her daughter.
Segovia-Johnson clearly remembers the day she went outside during her husband’s deployment and realized she had no idea how to use the lawn mower. This memory has helped her planning.
“Little details that you take for granted, you have to start thinking about,” she said.
The experience has also rekindled her ambition to be an artist. She is considering opening a studio after she hits her 25-year mark with the Guard.
“Maybe when I get back, if I have enough saved up, I want to start working into that as I come to the end of my career,” she said.
Spc. Sarah Lupescu, 19
Freshman at MU
Has served 2 years
Sarah Lupescu sits close to her best friend, Jennifer Hagan, on a couch in the house they share with two friends in Columbia.
Instead of classes and boys, though, the girls’ conversation revolves around Lupescu’s gas mask. She packed it along with her iHome, posters and DVDs for her deployment to Fort Leonard Wood on Monday, and from there, to Kosovo in June.
Lupescu is a broadcaster in the National Guard for 70th Public Affairs Detachment in Jefferson City. She is also a freshman at MU.
When she joined the National Guard two years ago, her primary focus was eliminating the financial burden of college.
“I didn’t want to be paying off student loans the rest of my life,” she said.
Instead of starting at MU with her best friend and other classmates from Monroe City, Lupescu entered the military.
Along with basic training, recruits have to attend schooling for the job they plan to have within the force.
“I narrowed it down to broadcasting, because I thought it sounded fun, and military intelligence.”
She chose broadcasting, went through basic training and spent 12 weeks in broadcast school.
She learned to interview and edit content for radio and television. In the process, she discovered her passion.
Pure enthusiasm crosses her face as she talks about setting up satellites for the live interviews that are broadcast on major networks.
The 12-week experience led Lupescu to enter MU in August 2007, studying radio-television journalism instead of nursing.
One month into the semester, she received a call from her captain saying she had been added to the deployment list for Kosovo Forces 10.
Knowing she had entered into an eight-year contract with the Guard during wartime, Lupescu understood that she was likely to be deployed overseas. Yet, she surprised the captain with her enthusiasm.
“Might as well deploy now when I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I don’t have a career started,” she said. “Go now before any of that happens.
“It was frustrating because I had already delayed starting a year because of training, but I figured they’re paying for my school, they can tell me when to leave whenever they want.”
She took this semester off in order to prepare for the assignment, but she plans to continue her education with MU online once she reaches Kosovo.
Even out of school, Lupescu had been learning a lot. She had to complete online courses on driving, health issues and how to survive if captured. The only part of the learning process she struggled with was the 15 common phrases in Albanian that she had to master.
These past two months were also filled with packing and visiting friends in St. Charles and family in Monroe City and Arizona.
Lupescu insists she is not scared, even though watching the violence in nearby Serbia on TV has her mom and best friend nervous.
The Internet has eliminated a lot of the unknown for her. Troops have posted photos and stories to help incoming soldiers.
Lupescu has also learned that a Taco Bell, her favorite comfort food, has recently opened on base. There is also a pizza delivery system, and she plans to use Yahoo! to call her friends and relatives often.
“I’ll probably miss just the everyday little things that I won’t realize I’ll miss until I get there,” she finally confided to Hagan.