LOCATION UNDISCLOSED — This Memorial Day, Newberry native First Sergeant Jason Huggins is overseas serving his country in the U.S. Army.
He most recently was stationed at Fort Bragg, a base where all servicemen and servicewomen are rapid response forces ready for missions worldwide within 96-hour windows. Rangers, Special Forces, Delta Force and more are stationed there.
Huggins participated in this interview from an undisclosed location in support of Operating Enduring Freedom. As first sergeant of a Patriot Missile Battery, he and the soldiers serving alongside him provide air missile defense support for a local country and for American assets.
His 21-year military career is owed in part to his grandfather.
Huggins joined the National Guard in 1991 to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Everett Longshore, who served five years and fought under Gen. George H. Patton at the Battle of the Bulge.
During his service, Longshore received two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. He died in 2001.
Huggins, also a Bronze Star recipient, said he is proud to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
“He basically was like a second dad,” Huggins said. “He lived two tenths of a mile away and we did everything together. I used to farm with him every summer and I was inspired as I listened to him tell stories (when I heard) how passionate he was, heard about the military camaraderie and how he loved serving his country. (My grandfather) was very proud of what he did and I chose to go into the Army because of him.”
After graduation from Newberry High School, Huggins worked for a while at Thomas and Howard and joined the 215th but he realized that working inside was not for him.
Transition to the Army
After a conversation with his grandfather, Huggins chose to join the Army.
Huggins admitted to having teenage years where his life needed the structure and discipline the National Guard, and a year later the Army, provided.
“It was a great transition for me (from Guard to Army),” Huggins said, “and I gained maturity and learned how to be a better member of society.”
He joined an air defense artillery unit at Fort Stewart and worked as a gunner for a portable air artillery system, eventually becoming master gunner.
He served three years in Germany with the 43 Air Defense Artillery with the First Infantry Division. In May 1999, he deployed to Macedonia in support of the mission with the initial push by coalition forces into the Kosovo conflict.
He served there four months with advanced artillery, helping provide a full security mission for an airport and for camp Able Sentry. In 1999 he was sent back to Fort Stewart as section chief with the Avenger missile weapons system.
Then 9/11 happened.
Huggins said sitting around his station in Korea and watching it happen was surreal.
“I remember the shock, anger, hurt and different emotions of that day. It reconfirmed my commitment to my country (and I decided to make the Army a career),” he said.
In 2003 Huggins deployed to Iraq and was part of the war’s initial invasion.
His unit was the first to get to Baghdad with the Third Infantry Brigade from Fort Stewart. They provided support to secure an international airport and protect it from missile threats.
After his first tour in Iraq, he returned to Fort Stewart and the unit he was in transitioned into the 7th Calvary Regiment.
In 2005-06 he returned to Iraq at the Paliwoba Forward Operating Base using his skill set as a small arms master gunner for a security detail. During that deployment, he conducted over 300 combat patrols with his unit, pulling security details for the city and running counterinsurgency tactics as well as counter IED tactics along all main supply roads. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service there from January 2005-06.
Providing life saving training
In 2006 he attended drill sergeant school at Georgia’s Fort Benning and was a drill sergeant at Fort Bliss from August 2006 to December 2008. In 2008 the Army transferred him to Fort Irwin in California as a platoon sergeant for the 111 Calvary. That unit provided training for all soldiers going to Iraq and Afghanistan, realistic training based on lessons learned in-country.
He served there until 2010 when he was sent to Fort Knox. In 2011 he deployed to Afghanistan with the 22 Infantry and was stationed at Forward Operating Base Andar in the Gazni Province.
Their mission and roles were as combat advisors to American leadership and the Afghan army and to teach community policing to the Afghan National Police as well as instruct them in counterinsurgency fighting.
In six months he performed over 150 patrols on foot and 100 mounted patrols from a vehicle. The terrain was mountainous and the area, rural.
“We would go through villages and try to communicate and help villagers around the area. We helped through an interpreter to build rapport,” he said, adding that he drew from the time spent with his grandfather. “We talked about farming initiatives to help them have a better harvest and to improve their irrigation lines. It was about building relationships.
“There is not a day I don’t think about him but especially when I was over there (in country) he was the one I looked to for guidance to help me through situations I was in,” he added.
Andar was established three months prior to his arrival.
“Once people knew they could trust us, that let to intelligence information being shared,” he said. “We had to interact. In that area the police and army were not viewed as good guys so we did patrols and then showed (the local military and police) how to communicate.”
They patrolled together with platoon sized elements of Afghan and U.S. forces going through town, talking with the community and the elders and gaining their trust.
“They have to trust you. And I could see (throughout the 10 months I was there) the community trusting us more and learning to trust the local law enforcement to do their jobs,” he said.