Nels Gordon Hansen of Incline Village experienced a real-life classroom in the field during his deployment to Afghanistan.
The Nevada Army National Guard specialist, a crew chief aboard a Chinook CHD47 helicopter that flew out of Forward Operating Base Shank, said the terrain reminded him so much of the Sierra range, especially near his hometown where his father is a middle school teacher. Hansen and his fellow guardsmen from Bravo Company, 189th General Support Aviation Battalion will return within several weeks to Reno after a yearlong deployment.
As a crew chief, Hansen logged in more than 300 hours flying time on missions involving the transportation of equipment and supplies or troop movement from one landing point to another. Many flights occurred at night because of reduced insurgent fire directed at the twin-bladed Chinooks.
"My first flight was to a sketchy spot," Hansen recollected. "I was told we could encounter fire. I wondered what I got myself into."
Hansen, though, said he eased into his position, and subsequent flights did not bother him. With the helicopters flying over the mountainous and high desert terrain, Hansen said he daydreamed about Nevada.
"I think Afghanistan is similar to Nevada," Hansen explained. "If we flew by Tillman (Forward Operating Base Tillman), the terrain reminds me of home, of Tahoe and the green mountains. I easily thought of Tahoe and smelled the trees."
FOB Tillman is a small post near the Pakistani border. Hansen volunteered for the deployment, but he said several friends asked why.
"My other friends weren't surprised because I have some buddies in the Guard. One buddy was with signal last year."
The 422nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion deployed to Kandahar Air Field in 2012 and returned one year ago this month.
When Hansen returns home, he can't wait to see the snow-covered mountains and don a pair of skis. Hansen said he will return to the University of Nevada, Reno, and finish his degree in political science.
Sgt. Adam Peterson moved to Zephyr Cove three years ago from the East Coast to enjoy the snow and ski.
"I was tired of going on vacation to Lake Tahoe," he recalled. "I wanted to stay there. I love the snow."
Peterson joined the National Guard in 1999 when he lived in Connecticut. He has spent six years as a communication specialist, a specialty he put to use daily while at FOB Shank.
Completing the interstate transfer to Nevada was easy for Peterson. He became interested in the Nevada Army National Guard when the aviation company brought a helicopter from the Silver State to Connecticut. The Nevada Guard accepted his transfer, and Peterson also snared a full-time technician job as a mechanic at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Stead, 13 miles north of Reno.
The deployment to Afghanistan was Peterson's second. In 2001, he deployed to Bosnia in a peacekeeping role, but he found the pace in Afghanistan much faster.
"Long hours are here," he said referring to his time at Shank. "We have long days, so it will be nice to be done. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. We're getting close, and I am getting excited."
Two soldiers with ties to the Lake Tahoe region deployed in May with the 593rd Transportation Company with headquarters in Reno and detachments in Elko, Las Vegas and Winnemucca. Sgt. 1st Class Heather Harris of Truckee deployed three times to Iraq, but this is her first assignment to Afghanistan.
Barely into her 30s, Harris joined the military more than 10 years ago, two days after 9/11. Since that time she has periodically worked full time for the Nevada Army National Guard, and prior to the Afghanistan deployment, she worked with training.
As the platoon sergeant, she ensures soldiers meet their training objectives, and she sets forth additional training for the road as both an assistant convoy commander and truck commander.
"A leadership role is a lot different in a combat zone," she pointed out.
"There is more responsibility. I go out on convoys. I want to go where the fight is."
As platoon leader, Harris said she wants to see if the soldiers are doing the right thing and if they are focused on their convoy missions and to see how they deal with situations that may crop up along the route.
Harris figures her missions in Iraq have provided an extensive wealth of knowledge in dealing with soldiers who have deployed for the first time. Harris said she is always a little nervous when going out on a convoy.
"If you do not fear, then you may lead soldiers into more risk," she said.
When she returns to Reno, Harris said she would like to work full time for the Guard.
"If not, I'll go back to UNR and finish up my teaching credential," she said.
Although he now lives in Las Vegas, Sgt. Meville Fabella still retains strong ties to South Lake Tahoe.
Fabella's family came to the United States from the Philippines in 1990 and eventually moved to southern Nevada nine years alter.
Fabella graduated from South Tahoe High School in 1995 and joined the U.S. Navy three years later, yet he reminisces about the seasons there.
"I miss the mountains and snow and the nice weather in the summer," said Fabella, who enjoys snowboarding.
Fabella, though, also had a love for the ocean. He was a rescue swimmer in the Navy, but he left the service after eight years. Instead, he enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard where he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with three different units.
"The deployments are totally different," said Fabella, who works in logistics. "We need to ensure the equipment is the right kind."
Fabella, who in civilian life is a cook for one of the Las Vegas casinos, also rode on convoys in Iraq, the same thing he does out of Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, which is near the international airport.
- Steve Ranson, editor of the Lahontan Valley News in Fallon, traveled to Afghanistan during November 2012 and embedded with the two Nevada companies.