Wednesday, June 26, 2013
University of New Orleans Flag
Waves in Afghanistan
A University of New Orleans flag hangs in a U.S. military command post at Bagram Air
Field north of Kabul, Afghanistan.
The popular flag and LSU flag quickly moved to a prized place on the ceiling.
Five fuel tankers in a convoy that Dounseroux was travelling in were recently hit
by RPG's, or rocket-propelled grenades. "They were forcing us off the road," said
Dounseroux, who said other convoy trucks travelled through fields and through fences
to escape the fire as Afghani police on foot chased the perpetrators.
Dounseroux drives a Heavy Equipment Transport (HET) vehicle in convoys led by Louisiana
Army and Air National Guard 1084th Transport Company.
Afghan locals stop the 1084th Transport Company to warn the Americans they had found
an IED that needed to be removed. The following day, a rocket-propelled grenade hit
one of the trucks in Dounseroux's convoy and killed a Louisiana soldier.
Louisiana Army National Guard Sergeant First Class Norbert Dounseroux wanted a dose
of home at his base in Afghanistan so he telephoned the University of New Orleans
last month looking for a University flag.
The UNO International Alumni Association gladly took the soldier's call and now a
UNO flag proudly hangs in a military command post north of Kabul.
"This is my fifth deployment -- four to Iraq and Kuwait and first to Afghanistan,
arriving April of this year," said Dounseroux, who served several tours during the
Gulf War before being redeployed in 2010 for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dounseroux serves with the 160-member Louisiana Army and Air National Guard 1084th
Transportation Company, which left Reserve, La. in late February to join 23,000 troops
being deployed for service in Afghanistan. The transportation company replaced the
396th Transportation Company, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., and is now stationed at
Bagram Airfield, approximately 30 miles north of Kabul.
The transport company's mission in Afghanistan is to provide convoy security to Afghan
trucks and U.S. military trucks.
"We escort convoys from base to base around Afghanistan and basically hope nothing
happens, but when the stuff hits the fan, we handle it," said Dounseroux, who serves
as headquarters platoon sergeant.
A 50-year-old veteran with 25 years of service, Dounseroux oversees approximately
25 personnel working in four sections: security, operations, supply, armor and administration.
"If you can imagine going from New Orleans to Lafayette, it's about 130 miles. It
could take two or three hours to drive, but in our reality it takes two or three days
to travel that distance," the soldier said. "We follow what they call 'route clearance,'
soldiers who monitor and scan the highways for explosives and stuff. They have X-rays
or sensors that scan the roadways looking for bombs...If they find one, they call
in EOD, the Explosive Ordnance Division, and they'll come and take care of it."
The hilly terrain makes travel and service more difficult in Afghanistan than in Iraq,
said Dounseroux. He drives a Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) vehicle and escorts
convoys that include MWRAP Maxpro vehicles bearing heavy weaponry.
Dounseroux likened a military transport convoy to a float parade or funeral procession,
with police guards up front and evenly spaced trucks. If anything happens, his unit
is responsible for ensuring safe transportation.
Twenty-Five Years of Service
Dounseroux joined the U.S. Army in December 1985 and attended basic training at Fort
Leonard Wood, Mo. He spent his first seven years of active duty stationed in Mannheim,
Germany, where he was assigned to the 590th Transportation Company at Turley Barracks
from April 1986 to November 1993. While there, he served in the Gulf War and served
assigned special humanitarian duty in both Iraq and Kuwait.
From 1993 to 1997, Dounseroux was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas. During that time period,
he was briefly deployed on a short mission to Kuwait during the Gulf War in 1995.
"Back then, we didn't have anywhere close to the equipment we have now. When we hit
the highway, it was just us," the military transport driver said. "My safety depended
on whether my co-driver or my passenger stayed awake. If we got shot at, I would need
him on the look out...to see where they were and shoot back...His safety depended
on how fast I could get that truck out of the area."
Though he left the Army in 1997, he still had not had enough.
Dounseroux joined the Louisiana Army National Guard 1084th Trans Co. in 1999. He made
two trips to San Diego, where he supported the building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico
border, and in 2003 and 2010, Dounseroux was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait.
Life on Bagram Air Field
Now Dounseroux lives on base at Bagram Airfield in a 20-foot-by-eight-foot steel housing
unit fashioned from a 20-foot steel shipping container. The housing units are stacked
atop one another and suites are joined with a hallway through the middle. As a senior
veteran, he has one roommate. Eleven of the housing units made from shipping containers
house four soldiers, the soldier said.
Most of his information comes from the Armed Forces Network (AFN) television service
and the Stars and Stripes newspaper, both of which he described as "government-controlled."
During downtime, he watches "as much television as possible" to relax at the end of
long days, he said. On arriving in Afghanistan, the sergeant purchased on base a 26-inch
flat screen and Dish TV system, which allow him to watch television shows made in
the U.S. and programmed through India.
In other words: he reads subtitles as he listens to dubbing by Indian speakers in
order to watch American television.
At a local bazaar, he can buy "boot-leg movies, and other items that everyone buys
to make themselves comfortable," the soldier said. The time zone is 9 1/2 hours ahead
so he makes his personal calls late at night.
"Actually...we have the same basic comforts as if you were on Belle Chase," the soldier
said, referring to the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, La.,
about 20 minutes from New Orleans. The base, which sits on an airfield with a dual-runway
capable of handling any size military aircraft, is one of the largest U.S. military
bases in Afghanistan.
"We have the PX, Popeye's, Pizza Hut and Green Bean Coffee (our version of Starbucks).
And I use the AT&T phone center sometimes if I don't want to use my cell phone."
Staying Balanced In A War Zone
Recent experiences in Afghanistan have been powerful and poignant, said Dounseroux,
who spoke of bonds between soldiers and the experience a 50-year-old veteran with
25 tears of service brings.
In the last two months, he has faced improvised explosive devices and rocket propelled
grenade launchers, seen soldiers wounded by shrapnel, handled wounded soldiers, dealt
with wrecked equipment, dodged flaming vehicles and mortar rounds -- and served on
the convoy that transported Spc. Christopher Drake, a 20-year-old Tickfaw man killed
one month ago today.
"All I can say is that I was just ahead of him and I will always remember his last
words to me," said Dounseroux, who kept the dead soldier's words private. "...I can
say that it's important to remember the last thing you say to someone might be your
Full of humor, Dounseroux has told his soldiers to view the mountains of Afghanistan
as Denver and Salt Lake City. He described Kabul as any other inner city with "hustle-bustle
traffic" and poverty -- marked in his mind through several deployments by poor and
parent-less children chasing American trucks for food and candy.
The best advice he has given young soldiers, he said, is: Don't hang around the clock-watcher.
One never knows for sure when he or she will leave until on the plane home, he said.
In the meantime, the best answer is to stay focused, work hard and keep occupied during
Waving the Flag
To write or send packages, mail to:
SFC Norbert Dounseroux
1084th Transportation Co
Apo Ae 09354
Dounseroux waves his UNO flag in honor of his mother, Acquilla G. Dounseroux. The
gesture is both a nod to the past and a wave to the future.
"I can remember as a child she would bring me to class with her on the days she couldn't
get a sitter for me, as I was a handful. From what I remember, she was deep into school...She
was school-minded," Dounseroux said of his mother, who died in February 2008.
"I believe she also may have taken a class at SUNO briefly but I have fonder memories
of going to good ol' LSUNO back then."
He remembers taking the Elysian Fields or Franklin Avenue bus from uptown New Orleans
to campus and being greeted by a concrete wall and white sign. The sign had black
letters LSUNO and underneath that the words "Lousiana State University New Orleans."
"I remember reading it as we came up there on the bus," said Dounseroux, who at the
time was a small child.
His mother worked as a substitute teacher with Orleans Parish and worked at Charity
Hospital, he said. In the years before her death, she was preparing to retire from
City Hall, where she worked in many departments, including the Mayor's Office. She
raised five children in a shotgun double alone after her husband died.
"I've always admired UNO," said Dounseroux, who has pursued college coursework overseas
but not yet completed his college education. "Although my mother was an educator,
I just couldn't grasp the value of the education at the time," he said of the years
following his graduation from Alcee Fortier High School.
The soldier who thought he wanted to be a teacher too now serves as a driving instructor
in the military and coaches young servicemen daily.
"Hindsight 20/20 is a real butt kicker. After I returned from Iraq in 2010, I spoke
with a UNO representative at a Job Fair at the Superdome. After a nice long conversation,
we found I really wanted to attend UNO."
When he returns to the United States in January, he plans to return the University
flag to UNO in a case made by an Afghani craftsman. A small plaque will show that
the flag flew on a U.S. mission in Afghanistan, Dounseroux said.
"It has the Afghanistan dust on it," he said. "We can say: 'It's been here.'"