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Face of Defense: California Guardsman Gains Experience in Afghanistan


When Army Spc. Mark Ballinger arrived to the California Army National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division two years ago, a deployment to Afghanistan was the last thing on his mind.

Ballinger, a cable systems installer-maintainer, said slots for the upcoming two deployments to Afghanistan were scarce when arrived at the unit, but he stayed eager and motivated for the possibility of a deployment.

“In May, less than a week before we left for Texas for the first phase of the deployment, I received a call from an officer from my unit asking if I was still interested in going to Afghanistan,” said Ballinger. “I immediately jumped at the opportunity, they squared me away with the paperwork and I prepared to leave for the mission.”

On July 15, more than two months after that call, Ballinger and more than 30 other soldiers from the division stood in formation here to receive their combat patches during a patching ceremony.

“When I first arrived to the unit and received the 40th Infantry Division patch, I felt part of something bigger than myself, but now being able to wear the patch on both shoulders of my uniform makes me feel even more part of the team,” he said.

Ballinger, who is now part of the communications section for Train, Advise and Assist Command South, said his goal during this deployment is to gain experience.

“At first I wasn’t too excited about having to learn and do the work that [information technology specialists] do, but now I am so happy that I am getting that skill, so I can be a well-rounded signal soldier when I get back to the states,” he said.

Career Soldier

Getting first-hand experience and surrounded by the knowledge of a collaborated leadership of active-duty soldiers and guardsmen in TAAC-South will make Ballinger a better leader in the future, said Army Staff Sgt. Mark Anderson, Ballinger’s supervisor.

“[He] has already expressed that he wants to make the Army a career and he has the motivation and drive to be able to do it,” said Anderson, a nodal network systems operator-maintainer with the 40th Infantry Division. “This deployment will be a great stepping stone for him so he can receive mentorship from soldiers who do this line of work day-in and day-out.”

Anderson said seeing Ballinger receive his combat patch made him proud to be a noncommissioned officer.

“He’s very young in his career and he’s doing exactly what he needs to be doing to set himself up for success,” Anderson added. “It makes me feel proud to be his NCO and see how much he is excelling and contributing to the mission.”

Ballinger said he is excited to learn and be able to use that knowledge to mentor and lead new soldiers when he gets back to California.

“With everything I learn here I will be able to be a better [cable systems installer-maintainer specialist] and leader,” he said. “I want to be a person that others look up to and depend on because they know I can get the job done.”