CAMP BUEHRING, KUWAIT — At this camp, the Angels are in the details, and those Angels are the troops of the First Sergeant’s Detail.
The soldiers, who belong to the 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment, are on hand and on call for all manner of work here, from manual labor to strictly fix-it tasks, from the onerous to the honorable. Though they only number a half-dozen soldiers, their work touches a little bit of everything, everywhere at this sprawling, 2,160-acre camp.
The S.C. Army National Guard battalion assumed security force missions and a camp operation mission, which the first sergeant’s detail is part of, here in April.
Though the work seems like drudgery – the “hey you!” roster hard-wired into the camp operation mission –members of the detail have found ways to make of the best of it, and even surpass the standard.
“Everything we do here has an impact on individual soldier’s performance and level of morale,” said Sgt. Colin Jeffcoat, who is in charge of the detail. “I’m proud of to be part of the First Sergeant’s Detail.”
The detail has also earned praise from their Camp Command Cell supervisors, as well as from their customers – the 7,000 or more service members, contractors and other personnel who live and work at the camp, like Tiffany Banks, USO Camp Buehring Center manager.
“They’ve done some pretty extraordinary things,” said Banks, recalling that the First Sergeant’s Detail helped the USO with a multitude of tasks, from moving sandbags to setting up luminaries for Memorial Day ceremonies. “They’re very responsive. They’re awesome.”
While their main job is helping to maintain Camp Buehring’s life-support facilities and resources, they also focus on base beautification, said Jeffcoat, who is from Lexington.
“But we end up doing lots of stuff,” he said.
Their support of life support during the triple-digit temperature days includes checking water points – the wooden structures, situated all over camp, which hold hundreds of water bottles for the convenience of thirsty camp personnel.
In addition to ensuring the water points are well-stocked, they check to see if the structures are undamaged – not always a sure thing at a base which suffers sand storms and winds of up to 50 miles per hour.
Another of the team’s regular duties is disposing of items improperly discarded near the camp recycling point. Though it’s a routine task, the items they find there are far from routine: refrigerators, weights, a Bo-Flex machine, a “Gator” utility vehicle – without wheels, sitting up on blocks – and other things so odd as to be inexplicable.
“Name something,” Jeffcoat said when asked to name the weirdest items found. “If it’s been on this camp, it’s out there.”
Cleaning up the area is a never-ending task, said detail member Spc. Zachary Lewis, of Georgetown.
“It was just overwhelming,” Lewis said, recalling the first time they went to the site. “We were all just dumbfounded.”
So far, they’ve moved and disposed of “every bit of seven to 10 tons” of material from the area, Jeffcoat estimated.
They also find odd things while doing another of their odd jobs – checking the camp’s inside perimeter for large pieces of wind-blown trash. Holding up a golf ball he found while driving the route, Spc. Cameron Durham was philosophic.
“I guess this is a good place to work on your chip shot, to learn how to get out of sand traps,” reflected Durham, of Myrtle Beach. They’ve furnished their office and rooms with things they’ve found, he added.
Soldiers from other units occasionally work as part of the First Sergeant’s Detail. Durham said these troops are surprised to learn that the same 4th Battalion soldiers are assigned to the detail full time.
“It’s good that way, because we know what’s expected,” he said.
“We’re used to getting pulled from one detail to another,” Lewis said. “Basically, that’s how this deployment’s been.”
But the soldiers of the First Sergeant’s Detail have managed to tolerate and transcend the tasks.
“We all realized that without us, the base wouldn’t run,” Lewis said. “It’s not too much of a hassle, with all of us working together as a team. We divide and conquer, and get it done.”
The Soldiers also clicked under the leadership of Jeffcoat and 1st Sgt. T. John Gray, the camp first sergeant, he said.
It helps that like others in America’s National Guard and Reserve forces, the Soldiers of the detail bring military abilities and civilian skills to bear on the task at hand. Some members of the detail work in construction or own construction businesses stateside, Lewis said.
“This is the kind of work we do back home,” Lewis explained, as the team labored in the sun, pounding stakes to erect a large sunshade outside the entrance to one of Camp Buehring’s dining facilities, June 30.
Though they bumped heads in the beginning, they got things sorted out, Durham said. Each of their personalities is valuable and fills a role, he added.
“It’s a good team,” he said. “It works.”
“Every one of them has a specific strength which contributes to the team,” Jeffcoat said.
The team thrived even without his leadership, Jeffcoat said. While he was away for a two-week course at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, the team completed nine out of 10 tasks of they’d been assigned, only missing a perfect record because they lacked the resources to finish the last task, he recalled.
“They made me proud,” Jeffcoat said. The Camp Command Cell later gave a Lewis an Army Achievement Medal for leading the team while Jeffcoat was away.
Combined with the team’s skills and initiative, the drudgery has become the mother of invention. While repairing a water point which had collapsed in the wind, he was struck by the notion of moving the cases of water bottles from under the frail structures and placing them inside cement bunkers, Jeffcoat said.
This ongoing innovation, which has now evolved into replacing the water points with sturdy cement bunkers, is likely to keep the water colder, he said.
On another occasion, Capt. David Baxley, commander of the Camp Command Cell, challenged his soldiers to construct a burn site where unclassified documents could be destroyed. The First Sergeant’s Detail gathered the materials and built the site within a day, Jeffcoat said.
When the sun rose again, the site had its first customer – a government worker with a gigantic document-disposal problem, he recalled.
“He had, literally, over a million maps,” Jeffcoat said. “So he went out there and used the burn site the next day.”
There are high-profile jobs as well. Along with others, the First Sergeant’s Detail provided security for Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. William E. Ingram, Jr. during his visit here, and set up 6,440 Memorial Day luminaries to honor the number of service members who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Though arranging the luminaries in straight rows was a painstaking and time-intensive job, they saw it as an awesome responsibility, and were determined to “complete it and do it well, in order to show proper respect for those who paid the ultimate price,” said Jeffcoat.
After darkness fell on Memorial Day, many of the hundreds of camp personnel who took part in the ceremonies could be seen walking among the rows of glowing luminaries, which were reminiscent of the gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
“That was a big deal,” Jeffcoat reflected.
That’s the kind of last-minute job the USO reaches out to the First Sergeant’s Detail for, said Banks.
“There’s never a moment when we don’t have a show or an event, so we rely very heavily on the military, including the First Sergeant’s Detail,” Banks explained.
After putting up the sunshade, June 30, the team caught a bit of a break – by faking illness. But they weren’t malingering; they were simply doing another job, playing food-poisoning victims for a force-protection exercise at the camp.
The First Sergeant’s Detail has taken part in all such exercises at the camp, said Sgt. Adam Cathrall, the force protection non-commissioned officer who is from Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“Any special projects that need to be done, they do,” said Gray, of Bennettsville. “They come through every time.”