SEVERN – Like most National Guardsmen, when Capt. Lance Allen Wang signed up, it was for one weekend a month and 15 days a year.
But when he thinks about being sent to Bosnia for six months of active duty, his eyes light up with a boyish enthusiasm. It’s hard to believe his legs aren’t swinging under the table.
“Our whole mission in life is to be ready,” Wang said. “Now we’re finally getting the call. We’ve spent all this time warming up in the bullpen. We’re ready to go in.”
Wang’s 29th Infantry Division — which includes about 4,500 Marylanders — was told last month that it is scheduled to head for Bosnia on a six-month peacekeeping mission in the fall of 2001. The last time the 29th was deployed was during World War II, said Gen. H. Steven Blum, the division commander.
Even though he has long since become a full-time solider in the National Guard, Wang has never been sent on active duty. He said deployment means an opportunity for the Guardsmen to prove themselves.
“It enhances our sense of relevance,” Wang said. “This is the role that we were meant to play.”
That feeling was echoed by 1st Lt. Patrick Young, who in civilian life is a husband and GTE technician from Abingdon.
“The whole purpose of our training is to be ready for the call,” he said.
The call may not come for a while, but Wang and Young are already having pangs about being separated from their families.
“All things being considered, well sure, I’d rather stay with my family, but, from a humanitarian standpoint, this is a chance to really do something good,” Young said. “I’ve tried to prepare her (his wife) emotionally for it.”
For Wang and his wife, Hatti, who is also in the military, the separation just comes with the territory.
“We both know what our jobs entail,” Hatti Wang said. “If I couldn’t handle these sort of things, he probably wouldn’t have married me.”
The Wangs have spent months apart before, including Thanksgiving 1988 when Lance was away at basic training.
“I spent that Thanksgiving in a chow hall,” he said. “It wasn’t the best time, being away from my wife, but I wasn’t alone.”
Thanksgiving 2001 could be the same way, but Lance said he is still eager to go. “It’s almost like we’ve been doing little training sprints, preparing for something like this,” he said.
And commanders said they make extra efforts to keep families in contact during missions, knowing that a soldier who does not have to worry about his family is more likely to be focused on the job at hand.
“It is to the Army’s benefit to take care of soldiers and their families,” said Lt. Col. John Anthony Russo, also of the 29th Division. “The Army understands that a soldier can sleep better at night if he’s getting information from his family.”
And Wang said it is better to have a family back home to worry about than no family at all. “A supportive family makes it so much easier,” he said.
But although he is obviously looking forward to the mission, Wang admitted that he expected this Thanksgiving would be a little more special.
“It has to be,” he said. “When you know you’re leaving, you treasure the time you have together more.”