By Army 1st Lt. Nicholas Rasmussen of Task Force Lethal
PAKTIA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Jan. 20, 2011 - Most soldiers who are deployed miss their homes. But for Army Spc. Steven Starkey and Army Pfc. Andrew Starkey, a large part of what the word "home" represents is just a five-minute walk up the hill.
Both Starkeys are assigned to the Iowa Army National Guard's Company F, 334th Support Battalion, out of Red Oak, Iowa.
Both soldiers said they joined the Guard to serve their country and fulfill some personal goals.
Steven enlisted in the active-duty Army in 1989 as a heavy equipment mobile tactical truck wheel mechanic. He was slated to serve during Operation Desert Storm when personal issues at home prevented his involvement. He was young and dealing with a troubled marriage when his chain of command made the determination to let him remain in the rear as his unit prepared to support Desert Storm, he said.
"Looking back, I don't feel I was mature enough to handle the task at hand," he acknowledged, adding that his brief service helped him to mature and gave him cause to consider future opportunities for service.
The events of 9/11 reignited that simmering ambition.
"I felt like I had left something on the table, an obligation I had left incomplete" he said.
So almost 15 years after his initial service, he began the process to rejoin the Army, eventually serving with the Iowa National Guard. The process wasn't easy.
Steven had remarried and had three additional children -- daughters Ashley and Rachel and stepson Jon -- when he decided to re-enlist for active duty. Despite trying three times, the active Army would not accept his application because he had more than two dependents.
Steven gave up trying for active duty after the third attempt. Then, in the spring of 2007, he met his daughter's soccer coach, a staff sergeant in the Iowa National Guard. The soccer coach informed Steven that the Iowa National Guard had waivers and programs to allow people in situations like his to join. A month after speaking with the soccer coach, he was at the military entrance processing station swearing in for service.
A year later, Andrew raised his right hand and made the oath to serve his country, but he had a different reason: his daughter, Kyra.
Being in the Iowa Army National Guard has given Andrew a means to provide health care and child support for Kyra, he said.
"I plan to start a savings account with the money I'm making [on deployment] to help pay for her college," he said.
But joining the Guard came with some additional, unanticipated benefits for Andrew.
"I see myself grow every day," he said, "whether or not I enjoy it all the time."
Before making his commitment to serve in the Iowa Guard, Andrew had a "loose-cannon mentality," as his father put it. He was an unruly youth who often did not think before he acted. That was nine months ago. Now, six months into deployment, Andrew is a much different person.
"He's level-headed and can take criticism constructively like an adult," said Steven, who added witnessing this change has been one of the most rewarding benefits to come out of being on this deployment together.
Steven said sometimes a father has to be a father, regardless of rank, and stick up for his son.
"It's hard to keep the fatherly instinct at bay when I see my son getting in trouble by his boss," Steven said. "I often have to swallow my pride and know my place."
The Starkeys act more like brothers or best friends when they're together here, calling each other by their last name and making fun of just about anything the other says. Though they work at the same company, the Starkeys still feel as though they could spend more time together.
As trying as some days may get, they said, they usually find some time throughout the week to hang out and unwind together, giving them a chance to solidify, in a unique way, a bond that can only be made between a father and son deployed together.
"The one thing that everyone else wants, we have: a family member on deployment," Andrew said.
NATO International Security Assistance Force