By T.D. Jackson / Camp Atterbury Public Affairs
Unlike, most units that come through Camp Atterbury for deployment, the Army Reserve’s 54th Military History Detachment is fairly small in size. Some of those other units can boast several dozen or several hundred Soldiers, but the 54th ? Three is all they need.
The 54th MHD, out of Louisiana, is scheduled to deploy to Iraq next week. Their mission entails capturing data on Army operations by conducting oral interviews, taking photographs and collecting artifacts and documents.
Because the unit is so small, the commander, Capt. Wendy Wright, said each Soldier is responsible for knowing the other Soldiers’ jobs.
Wright, for example, should know how to take care of personnel issues just as well as her first sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Harbin. And Harbin, in turn should be as familiar as Staff Sgt. Frederick Conner is, with performing maintenance checks on the unit’s equipment. And so on and so forth.
Wright said there has to be a lot of coordination among the three of them.
“I ensure that when a mission arises, everyone does oral history interviews and pictures.
We’re such a small unit that if we lose one person to sickness or they go on leave, the other person needs to be able to jump right in and take care of it,” she said.
This is the Soldiers’ first deployment together. Wright was seeking to volunteer for an overseas mission when she heard about the opportunity with the history detachment.
“At the time, I was looking for a deployment and I thought, ‘If I’m gonna do it I want to go as an MHD commander’,” said Wright, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in history.
Wright said that every historian must complete the Basic Combat Historian Qualification Course and then complete a two-week training exercise where they document the re-enactment of the Civil War’s Battle of Chickamauga.
Here, the Soldiers focus on gathering and identifying historical artifacts, conducting and transcribing oral history interviews, photographic documentation and historical document collection.
1st Sgt. Harbin was the second Soldier to join the unit after Wright.
Harbin has deployed once before, but when he heard about the MHD’s mission, it was one he couldn’t turn down. He said he simply was excited about the chance to contribute to the written history of the U.S. Army.
“The best thing [about the job] is being able to capture what’s happening for our younger generations to be able to read and understand exactly what went on during this conflict,” said Harbin. “The only thing they know now is what’s on TV,” he said. “[When we’re finished] somebody will be able to sit down and read about it.”
Harbin said when he gets in country, he’ll be looking forward to interviewing the leadership about the emotional state of the troops.
“Morale is one of the main issues you have during times of conflict,” he said. “I want to know how Soldiers are holding up,” he said.
Harbin said the morale concept was interesting to him because he wanted to know what makes a young Soldier volunteer for deployment.
“I want to see how the senior Soldiers implement their leadership to keep [the young Soldiers] doing what they do. The Army’s attrition is low but you have these young Soldiers who keep volunteering.”
Conner, the third and last Soldier to join the MHD, said when he heard about the mission he thought it sounded like an awesome opportunity, and after talking it over with his wife he decided to join the unit.
“It really sparked my interest,” he said. “I really find it to be one of the best jobs. You get to sit back and hear from beginning to end an entire story, whether it be about a battle or the entire time a Soldier might have been [deployed]. You get to hear their story.”
Now that he’s a part of the history detachment Conner said he understands the need for unit historians.
“In order for [the history] to be accurately depicted – in order for it to be told and put into the textbooks and movies the historian has to go out there and get accurate information and capture significant events whether it be photographs, or interviews or first-hand accounts,” he said.
“The importance is to ensure that the military has the story told correctly.”
This is a daunting responsibility, one that the 54th Soldiers embrace enthusiastically. Once the materials are gathered from the battlefield, they are sent to the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C., where they’re cataloged in the Military History Collection System Integration. The military then uses the historians’ information to give an account of what happens in country. The information they gather is used in reference materials, museums and for lessons learned.
Since World War II, MHDs have had the mission of documenting, recording and gathering history of Soldiers on the battlefield and today there are a total of 22 military history detachments in the Army: one in the active Army, 16 in the Army Reserve, and five in the Army National Guard.
Unit historians are unique Soldiers because their arsenal includes cameras and tape recorders, and they piece together the information that eventually makes its way to our libraries and bookshelves and in this way, they create a little bit of history for themselves.
* See the official historic Camp Atterbury website at www.IndianaMilitary.org. It is full of unit and individual history and heroes of 5 separate WW2 and Korean War Divisions.
By T.D. Jackson / Camp Atterbury Public Affairs