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“I know he’s serving his country, but me not being informed, me not knowing anything, that’s the hardest part.”

Victoria was at her Georgia home with her family over the holidays when her 24-year-old son received an unexpected text message. Although the soldier was on authorized leave from Fort Bragg, his supervisor told him he needed to report back to the North Carolina base as soon as possible.

Little about their son’s career in the U.S. Army surprises Victoria, whose name has been changed due to privacy concerns, and her husband: They both spent time in the service themselves. But, Victoria told COURIER in a phone interview, they found the urgent recall alarming. 

“My son has been deployed before,” Victoria said. “This was out of the norm. [His commanders] didn’t give him any information. We got scared—like, what in the world is going on. I went into pure panic mode. [I thought], ‘What are they getting ready to do?’ It’s the most terrifying thing.”

Tensions between Iran and the United States escalated in recent weeks after President Trump authorized the killing of a top Iranian general in response to a number of events, including the killing of an American contractor by an Iran-backed militia and the threat of an “imminent” attack on Americans (which has since been walked back by administration officials).

According to several media reports, senior military officials were stunned that the president opted to target the general when he had several other choices on the table for retaliation. “It was tremendously bold and even surprised many of us,” one administration official told the Washington Post.

Days later, Iran responded by firing missiles at Iraqi bases housing American troops. Both countries publicly agreed to stand down afterward. Although the president had initially announced that “no Americans were harmed” in the attack, military officials later said 11 service members had been treated for concussions.

Amidst this latest conflict, North Carolina has seen nearly 6,500 service members be sent to the Middle East, including 3,500 paratroopers from Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division. The first troops deployed on New Year’s Day.

Many of those deployments came quickly, leaving family members with little time to prepare to be away from their loved ones. Some soldiers had to leave within 18 hours of being notified. According to the Fayetteville Observer, this was the first short-notice combat deployment for the 82nd since the invasion of Panama in 1989. 

In an interview with NPR, Rachelle Hertle shared how she and her family were visiting her terminally ill mother in Ohio when her husband Alex got the call to return to Fort Bragg. “We thought that it was a drill because that happens, you know?” 

But it wasn’t a drill. Alex deployed with other members of the 82nd to an unspecified location in the Middle East, unsure of when he’ll return. His departure left Hertle to care for their three foster children and a biological son who’s almost nine—it’s his third deployment. 

“That’s military life,” Hertle told NPR. “Babies are born, adoptions happen, emergency situations take place, and [the soldiers are] not always here.”

Kim Clagg is the board president of Love Deployed, a Fort Bragg-based group that offers support to military families who have loved ones deployed. She’s also a military spouse whose spouse is currently deployed on a different mission. “It’s hard to prepare yourself because you don’t know when it’s coming,” she told COURIER in a phone interview. “All you can do is go with the flow.”

Family members who have to deal with quick reaction deployments don’t have nearly as much time to prepare for their service member’s departure as those who are informed of their mission with more lead time. 

“They don’t have as much time to prepare to get documents sent in,” Clagg explained. “It’s little stuff like getting [power of attorneys] sent to insurance companies. They don’t have as much time to explain to the children what’s going on or their other family members what’s going on.”

Other service members, like Victoria’s son, have been put on standby, meaning they’re at the highest standard of readiness and can hop on a plane with short notice. She worries, however, that he won’t be able to let her know if and when he does get deployed, or keep her updated about his safety when he gets to his destination. Fort Bragg soldiers who have already left were ordered to leave their phones behind for security precautions.

“During his last deployment, he was able to text us to let us know how he was doing,” Victoria said. “Whenever things would happen, like bombings and IEDs, he would text us, ‘We had a situation over here, and I’m OK.’”

“I know he’s serving his country, but me not being informed, me not knowing anything, that’s the hardest part.”

Clagg said everyone prepares for deployment in their own way, but “at the end of the day you get through it. Soldiers sign up to defend our country and to do what they need to do, but the family, they signed up to support their soldier.”

For Victoria, that includes prayer and optimism while remaining realistic about the dangers her son and other soldiers may face. “That’s all I can do.”

Recent news out of Afghanistan offered a somber reminder of those dangers: Two paratroopers from Fort Bragg were killed while conducting combat missions in Kandahar.