Each of the thousands of Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who have deployed in support of the U.S. military since 9/11 have their own story, and their own way of telling it.
Maj. Andy Schouten turned to writing to share his 2006 Afghanistan deployment with his family, and his experience is now a published book entitled First to Fire: An Embedded Training Team Member Experience in Afghanistan 2006.
“I didn't decide to write it — it just happened,” Schouten said. “I initially started writing during post-traumatic stress disorder counseling, and I continued to write.”
Eventually, Schouten had a collection of short stories that were not connected. He then envisioned a way to connect those stories and use them to tell of his whole deployment.
“My true intention with my story was to share my experience with my daughter someday,” Schouten said, “along with other family members and friends, as no one knew the whole story.”
Schouten deployed individually in 2006 as a member of Task Force Phoenix, which was an Embedded Engagement Team (ETT) specifically organized to advise the fledging Afghanistan National Army (ANA).
“ETT Task Force Phoenix at the time was not a doctrinal unit or mission,” Schouten explained. “The mission was to advise the ANA in leadership, staff support functions, planning, assessing, supporting, and executing operations and training.”
ETTs also provided the ANA with advanced military functions like close air support, field artillery support and medical evacuation. Schouten’s previous assignments provided him with diverse experience in infantry, communication and field artillery.
“I had ETT assignments from the company to the corps levels in signal, infantry, and field artillery functional areas,” Schouten noted. “The highlight of the deployment was firing the ANA field artillery.”
It took Schouten more than six months to turn his stories into a book. He spent much of his free time over that period writing and verifying information.
“I found writing to be therapeutic and more productive than watching reruns of ‘The Office,’” he remarked. “Writing, at times, slowed when I was researching dates and events in order to write an accurate account.”
Although Schouten’s mission ended in 2006, Joint Task Force Phoenix’s mission in Afghanistan continued until 2010. The Army since that time has developed Security Forces Assistance Brigades (SFAB) to undertake the advise and assist mission of foreign militaries. The Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry currently is supporting an SFAB in Afghanistan.
“Task Force Phoenix is conceptually the groundwork for the new Security Force Assistance Brigade as a permanent organization,” Schouten said.
Schouten’s book is self-published and includes over 1,200 pictures of his deployment.
“My objective is to share my story with my family, not generating income,” said Schouten. “I did my own editing, formatting and photo layout.”
Schouten’s book joins a growing library published by Wisconsin National Guardsmen. Benjamin Buchholz, Joseph Streeter, and Nathan Olson in 2007 wrote Private Soldiers: A Year in Iraq with a Wisconsin National Guard Unit about their deployment to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry. Fred Minnick wrote Camera Boy: An Army Journalist’s War in Iraq in 2009 about his experience in the 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment in Mosul, Iraq. Col. (ret.) Eric Killen published in 2014 Images of America: Wisconsin Army National Guard, which is a photographic history of the organization. Finally, the Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office this year authored an e-book entitled Dawn of the Red Arrow: Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the 32nd ‘Red Arrow’ Division and the Wisconsin National Guard’s Role in World War I.