Since 1963, the Army Reserve at 11 Eagle Road has been used by the Army. At one time, it housed the 399, which was a Civil Affairs Group, as well as a few Military police, but it is now the 411, the Army Reserves Civil Affairs Battalion.
The roster lists 203 soldiers who participate in the activities in the building, but there are never that many in the building at once. At any given time on a weekend, though, there could be 150 soldiers who come in for training.
Major Lawrence Apo, originally from Hawaii, came to Connecticut in 2008, when there were only six authorized full time staff. Now there are twenty-six.
We interviewed Major Apo about the growth of the Reserve in recent years and the need for the larger facility, as well as questioned him about just exactly what the Army Reserve does.
What do the twenty six people who work at the Center do?
Major Apo: There's a group that deals with records and medical, administration, one in intelligence, and operations deals with training. On weekdays, they prep for months coming, which could be anything basic soldiering and assessments.
When we go out, we go as teams of four. We used to train at Camp Smith and now we train in Niantic. There are certain schools that are a progression for the reservists, and they prepare for Civil Affairs, maintain the schools for reserves, logistics, equipment, meals for battle assembly, whatever is assigned to this unit. Communications deals with radios, and anything to do with communications.
There's the motor pool, which is all of the vehicle maintenance, and a retention person for when people are approaching the end of their term, and we try to retain them. We have training operations offices, anything we get from higher headquarters, missions that need to be filled.
How long have you been in the Army?
Since 1994. I was a 30 year old private. (Laughing) I was the oldest private! I was in the Infantry, I been to Iraq twice with the Infantry Battalion, and I was with the Aerial Support group out of Hawaii for my second tour. I was in charge in life support. Then I came here three and a half years ago.
It must be nice to come here after being in more dangerous situations.
Yeah, but I looked forward to doing that. I have a bag already packed!
Why is the Reserve looking to move?
This is a rented facility, and we have outgrown it. This was all identified as, We have to move. We were supposed to go to Newtown three years ago, but the Mayor fought to keep the Reserve here. It's going good. People understand it now.
Did the local residents object to the move?
People get fed the wrong information, like it would have trailer parks and rifle ranges. We will just train and practice and on the weekends, we'll move out.
People had land use and environmental issues. We will not be disturbing too much. Do you know it? It's right above Goodrich. The land is flat land, it's an open meadow. We have to cut some trees, we need driveways, but just the minimum. The Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of all that. They will build some retaining walls that will protect the wetlands, there will not be any erosion. But it won't be too much.
Who is going to be there?
It will be a multi-functioning building, it will house us and a couple of units of the National Guard. The new building will be bigger than this, it will be 90,000 + sq ft. There will be a training unit, a couple of infantry platoons for the National Guard, a transportation battalion. We will be the largest element in that building. No one will live there, it will be an office facility. Everyone lives in civilian housing.
Do you have another job or is this what you do? How does it work with Reservists?
This is my full time job. Everyone in uniform is in Active Guard Reserve. We are active duty soldiers but we work with the reserve units. Reservists come in one weekend a month, and two weeks once a year to be trained. We support all of that.
(Passing by a large indoor fenced in area.) What is in here?
This is the supply cages, you can see the MREs, Meals Ready to Eat. You can see how much room we need for supplies. One of the big reasons for moving is that we don't have enough parking here. We have forty-two Humvees, and eight large 2 ½ ton trucks for supply transport. We train with all of these trucks.
We have other places we can store ten of them, some just came back.
What is the main purpose of the 411?
We do Civil Affairs, we mainly do assessments, the infrastructure. When we go into Iraq and Afghanistan, we assess the town and village. Assessors will go in and meet the mayor or elected officials, ask them what are their issues, see what they need... if they need a well or a power station. Everything that has been done was assessed, follow up on the projects that were done.
What is the difference between the Army Reservists and the National Guard?
Reservists are federal, they do assessments. The first line would be The National Guard covers the state. Reservists fall under the president, federal. Going through the channels, the Governor can activate the National Guard. If there is a national disaster, and if the National Guard needs help, they would call Washington, and the Reservists would be called in then; we would be activated.
Do the Reservists just wait to be called by the National Guard or to be called to war?
Our geographical area is Africa, and we are just training. Every state has an area they are assigned to. But if anything critical comes out, if civil affairs needs to go out to assess something, that whats we would do. Here, we just train the teams to become better; to maintain basic soldiering, how to use a weapon, combat lifesaving, how to put in an IV, bleeding and woulds. It's basic soldiering, maintaining training.
How many are full time?
Reservists are only full time if they are on duty. When I signed, it was a 6 yr commitment, some serve four years and some people do re-enlist.
How did 9/11 effect the Reservists?
The security has changed since 9/11. We're so close to the road here, that's against the reg. Now we need to be 150 feet away from the street, and we don't meet that here. The fence is also against the reg, it has to be higher. You had gate guards, there was some security, but after 911, everything has been buttoned up.
Do you worry about security here, in quiet Danbury? Do we worry about it here?
Yeah, we worry about that here. We watch, we have operations security. If there is a car parked too long...Danbury is nice and quiet, it has been very appreciative of us here. We have always supported the city with parades, and whatever we can do to help the community, we do. (Apo laughs) People think this is a recruiting center, they come by here to sign up.
We were joined by Captain Wyatt Hughes, who we had met at the Military Museum when the steel pieces of the World Trade Center had been brought in.
Hello, Capt. Hughes. So did you also go overseas? What did you do there?
Capt Hughes: Everyone goes to Iraq and Afganistan. Most of the time it's humanitarian. I was in Mogadishu, remember that? We were there for three years, I was there for a few months. We give infrastructure support. Let's say their Department of Agriculture needs help, then we would serve as advisers. We might help with well refurbishment, feed and seed programs.
In certain cases, we might donate tractors, teach them how to farm legal crops, as opposed to opium. Really. We help them see that sustaining agriculture is better than poppies.
Do you provide medical supplies to areas that have a lot of disease, like AIDs in Africa?
We provide a lot of medical. In Ghana, we were teaching hygiene and giving basic support for malaria and typhoid. We provide the materials and they can just set up stations where they need them.
Is that what is happening now in Iraq? Infrastructure support?
Hughes: We are sending less and less people into Iraq, we are getting ready to pull out of there, and they are ready for us to leave. We will leave behind support systems. There is a period where advisers go into an area before we commit to sending troops. Then, as you leave, your advisers are there, heading off...trying to keep the area sustained.
What is it like when you go into a place like Iraq or Afghanistan? How are you treated by the people there?
Apo: Some are happy to have you there, and some aren't.
Hughes: In Afghanistan, it's very rural, most can't read or write. It's okay in the cities, but twenty miles outside, women are stoned to death if they educate themselves. You have to be very aware of the culture. You have to try to find ways to keep a mob from gathering. But it's rewarding when you can help. Somebody once gave me a baby camel when I was leaving.
Apo: It is rewarding seeing the changes working, having people in Iraq thank me. Sometimes it's, My baby is sick, can you help me?
Hughes: Even a little something can go a long way. Water is hard to come by, and sometimes just bringing bottles of water in means a lot to them.
I worked with a man named Gul, he was an old guy, he had fought against the Russians and he had been shot front and back. Gul received death threats from the founder of the Taliban for working with the United States. I told him he didn't have to work with us anymore, but he said no, he was not going to stop. He was only about 5' tall, about 110 pounds.
Apo: He was a tough guy.
Hughes: When you drop off things, even just some ink pens, you see a lot of happy kids. I dropped off some magic markers and the kids all drew all over each other. Apo: We would deliver clothing and shoes and they would be happy. They would take pride in having shoes, and it was kind of funny, seeing them running around with New York Knicks sneakers.