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SMYRNA (September 18) — Local Tennessee National Guard members were among approximately 116 soldiers from the 194th Engineer Brigade based in Jackson, who returned home September 18, 2020, …
SMYRNA (September 18) — Local Tennessee National Guard members were among approximately 116 soldiers from the 194th Engineer Brigade based in Jackson, who returned home September 18, 2020, after a successful deployment to the Middle East.
The 194th was activated October 2019 and spent the last 10 months as the U.S. Central Command Theater Engineer Brigade Headquarters, performing the functions of a corps-level, engineering strategic assist.
They were responsible for directing the efforts of 3,400 soldiers conducting engineering operations and projects in eight different countries throughout the U.S. Army Central Command area of operations in the Middle East region.
They served as an integral part of Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Freedom Sentinel, making this deployment especially historic.
With the COVID-19 pandemic peaking during their deployment, daily operations became trickier, but the mission was greatly successful.
McKenzie residents serving with the 194th Engineer Brigade in Jackson included Master Sgt. Richard Ozment, Master Sgt. Todd Walker and Lt. Austin Chapman.
During his deployment, Master Sgt. Ozment served as Brigade Training and Schools Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge (NCOIC) at the Technical Assistance Center (TAC) in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. He was housed in an open bay, eight-man barrack.
He worked with a TAC cell consisting of 12 soldiers.
“We had two battalions under us. “Our mission was general engineering operations,” Master Sgt. Ozment said.
“We had a really strong unit. Our leadership was second to none. Our junior officers and junior enlisted soldiers performed well above expectations. They took a lot of bad situations and made them positive.”
“When COVID hit, it changed everything over there,” he said. “They call it the new normal, but there was nothing normal about it.”
He noted none of the soldiers deployed with the 194th Engineer Brigade became infected with COVID-19 while deployed in Kuwait.
Upon being released from the 194th in Jackson, he was met by his wife, Sonya Ozment, daughter, Sarah, granddaughter, Ellah; sister, Shelia Willis, and several friends, including members of his church family at New Hope Baptist Church.
He stated the best thing about returning home is being with family and friends.
At 56 years of age, Master Sgt. Ozment has proudly worn the uniform of the Tennessee Army National Guard for the past 37 years.
He said, “I plan to continue serving in the military for the next two to four years, depending if I decide to stay until I’m age 60.”
Another McKenzie resident, Master Sgt. Walker, was also stationed in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
Master Sgt. Walker said he worked in the mobility section for the brigade. “We oversaw moving equipment around in the theater of operations, as needed by the engineering units underneath our command. Overall it was a good deployment.”
“Military personnel had to go through a lot more strict guidelines than we do back at home,” he said.
Master Sgt. Walker summed up his emotions about returning to his family and many friends saying, “It’s great to be home.”
When Master Sgt. Walker stepped off the bus in Jackson, he was greeted by his wife, Sergeant Melissa Walker, and their two children and several friends. He stated, due to COVID restrictions, it was a small group.
Master Sgt. Walker, who has been a member of the Tennessee National Guard for 27 years, says he is considering retiring in the spring of next year.
Lt. Austin Chapman of McKenzie could not be reached for comment.
“While dealing with COVID-19 certainly proved challenging, this is a mission-oriented team who met those challenges through their care and concern for one another,” said Col. Warner A. Ross II, Brigade Commander. “We dealt with the constraints and restrictions of COVID by constantly adjusting our safety protocols to ensure we were mitigating exposure risks and developing contingency plans. This team was determined to finish the deployment strong and they did just that.”
“The 194th successfully continued a proud legacy of serving as the ‘Theater Engineer Brigade,’” said Ross. “Throughout the deployment, our engineers served at the tip of the spear engaged in efforts supporting some of the highest-priority, strategic-level missions. I am proud of the professionalism and leadership this team brought to the fight each day.”
Before returning to Tennessee, the soldiers conducted a two-week quarantine period and a de-mobilization process in Fort Bliss, Texas.