136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (36th ID, TXARNG)
Story by Capt. Marvin Baker
KABUL, Afghanistan (Feb. 2, 2013) — Col. George Conwill sits in the back seat of an armored truck leafing through papers before his next senior leader engagement with an Afghan official in Kabul. Dressed in full-battle-rattle, including a Kevlar helmet and dark shatter-resistant sunglasses, he listens to the convoy leader as they go from mission prep to REDCON 1. Just as the driver shifts the car into drive, Conwill looks up and recognizes the operator as his son, Sgt. Stephen Conwill.
George and Stephen are both members of the Texas National Guard’s 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade out of Round Rock, Texas.
George is the brigade’s chief of staff and his days are filled with meetings and updates to the commander about the unit’s goings-on. So it may not be surprising that he does not notice his son right away en route to a mission. Stephen works in the unit’s movement team and is responsible for safely escorting other soldiers to various locations throughout Kabul.
George has 30 years of service in the Guard and Stephen has nearly eight years. Combined, they have completed five separate deployments since 2005, but this is their first deployment together.
“Since 2005, we have only seen each other in passing at home in Texas,” George said. “To some degree, I have seen Stephen more during this deployment in Afghanistan than I have in the past decade.”
Since 2008, George deployed once to Iraq, where he met up with his son for a few days while they worked with different units. Only a few years before that, in 2002, George retired from the Guard, then in 2005, he decided to come bank into the service.
Another father and son team from the 136th MEB on their first deployment together is Lt. Col. James Tillman and 1st Lt. Andrew Tillman. James is the unit’s chaplain while Andrew works as a planning officer at a different camp across the city from his dad’s base in Kabul.
“We see each other about every other week,” said James.
At that rate, the two will meet each other much more than they did back home, where Andrew spent long stints away from Texas working or attending college. The nine-month deployment to Kabul might be the most significant time they spend together in the same place.
While James and Andrew work in a city nearly 8,000 miles from their hometown, Andrew's mom, Phyllis, maintains the family business and builds her resiliency by having a daily and familiar routine.
“I cope with their absence by staying involved with familiar things, while also taking advantage of being able to spend extended time with my dad in Colorado,” Phyllis said. “I spent the holiday with my first grand baby in California, I have a " little brother" in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program and I volunteer at a local
elementary school,” she added.
Andrew’s sister, Janie Palin, had her first child with her husband shortly before her brother and father deployed.
“I am looking forward to them coming home and joining us for my daughter’s first birthday,” Janie said. “I don't worry about their safety, because I know that they are very good at their jobs, and they are surrounded by others who are the best at their jobs. They have trained and done everything in their power to prepare for this mission,” she said.
Janie recommends sending packages and talking via Skype or phone to help make the time seem to go by faster.
“Because sometimes you want to send them a little piece of home,
but other times you want to see their faces and hear about what they're doing right then,” Janie said.
Similarly, George’s wife, Mary, said she keeps up with her son and husband by Internet and keeps up morale with military programs, supportive neighbors, church, and co-workers.
George, who has spent the last three out of four Christmases deployed, plans to retire after returning home in 2013. While he wouldn’t trade his service for anything, he is ready to be home and spend time with his family.
“This is my last deployment,” George said. “We have a lot of memories from our tours—photos, videos and souvenirs. When I get home, I will pick up my life and hobbies where I left off—skydiving and traveling with my wife,” he said.
(From left to right) Col. George Conwill, Sgt. Stephen Conwill, 1st. Lt. Andrew Tillman and Lt. Col. James Tillman meet up and pose for a photo near their camp in Kabul, Afghanistan. The four soldiers are members of the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Texas National Guard and deployed together last fall for a nine-month deployment. The brigade is responsible for the management and security of eight coalition bases around Kabul. Additionally, the unit mentors and trains Kabul-area Afghan Uniformed Police officers