Photos: Patrick Hendrickson
Lieutenant Patrick Hendrickson has been in the shoes of ROTC cadets. He has trained at Drake and gone through the drills, knowing he is being prepared for the Army.
Right now, his shoes are trekking through the rocky sides of the Hindu Kush mountains, as he patrols the northern region of the Paktya province in Afghanistan.
Commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant after graduating last May, Hendrickson left home June 10, 2010. He went to a series of Army schools and left for Afghanistan in February.
This wasn’t his first deployment. Enlisting as a junior in high school, Hendrickson left for Iraq for 16 months at the age of 19. Now 27, he’s leaving behind much more.
“My current deployment isn’t near as long, but this time around I have two kids and a wife at home,” Hendrickson said in an email interview.
Hendrickson and his wife, Jessica, met at the gym. Jessica said she had eyed an attractive guy at the gym one morning, and decided she needed to go to at that time every day.
“I tried to make small talk with her for a couple of weeks at the gym whenever I got a chance,” Hendrickson said. “Finally, I worked up enough courage to ask her out. The rest is history.”
They married Oct. 27, 2006, and had two children: Ava, 3, and Jacob, 1. The children haven’t been with their dad all that much, but they still recognize his presence in their lives.
“She can show you on the globe where Afghanistan is,” Jessica said of Ava. And even though Hendrickson’s been gone most of Jacob’s life, Jacob still knows his dad. When Skyping, Jacob gets really excited and blows Hendrickson kisses.
“Jacob tries to take the pacifier out of his mouth and stick it in Patrick’s mouth on the computer,” Jessica said.
As for Jessica, she’s supportive of Hendrickson’s choice and copes with it as best she can.
“I stay really busy,” she said. “Between work and the kids, just the little stuff, by the time I cook dinner and go to bed, they need a lot of attention. I’m glad I get to stay busy and have things to take my mind off it.”
Hendrickson said it has been hardest for Jessica because she is taking care of the kids and working a full-time job. She doesn’t have much free time.
“She’s a very strong woman,” he said. “Both of the kids are at the age that it really doesn’t affect them. My daughter, Ava, is busy with daycare and dance classes and Jacob stays busy getting into trouble. There are times, however, when Ava misses her daddy. I know she misses my bedtime stories and our playtime after dinner. Jacob was just starting to get rowdy when I left, and loved to wrestle with me and have me crawl after him and chase him through the house. Both of the kids loved that. I can’t wait until I can do it again.”
One of the first things they’ll do when he gets back is to go to the Iowa State Fair. Hendrickson said Ava’s dying to race down the big yellow slide.
Now, halfway across the world, Hendrickson has had to make a new type of family.
“There is the bond between a husband and a wife, a parent and his children and the bond that friends share,” he said. “The bond that is created during a deployment between soldiers is just as strong as the rest of these.”
Hendrickson is an infantry platoon leader and is in charge of a 25-man infantry platoon which patrols the northern region along the Pakistan border. Their mission is to disrupt enemy freedom of movement and interdict insurgents trying to enter the border.
“Anytime our troops are in contact with the enemy there are a lot of things that run through my mind,” he said. “We are a family here, and anytime you know that a member of your family is in danger, you want to do anything you can to get to him and help out. We all know our mission and we all know what we signed up to do.”
Hendrickson said he believes they are making a lot of progress in the area.
They’ve provided employment to the Afghan people by building bridges, schools and a new police station and other jobs such as digging wells, sanitation services and repairing roads. The local Afghan police are starting to conduct their own patrols and are becoming less reliant on the help of Coalition Forces every day.
“We are fighting a ruthless and determined enemy throughout Afghanistan,” he said. “Although we still come in contact with the enemy everyday throughout the country, we are making great advances in the national security of Afghanistan. The number of safe havens and hideouts that the enemy used to have throughout the country are weakening every day. The people of Afghanistan are stronger and are more confident. They are starting to see what their country could be without the presence of Taliban and insurgent fighters.”
The troops also conduct Humanitarian Aid missions to help the local Afghan people. Hendrickson said that every day something happens to make him appreciate growing up in the United States.
“It’s great to see the faces of the kids light up when you give them a school bag with school supplies in it,” he said. “It’s also great to see the reaction when a bundle of blankets is given to a family in a secluded village.”
The culture in Afghanistan is much different than in the U.S. Women are rarely seen and are always in a burqa. The children are similar to American children — rowdy and curious, Hendrickson said. Most people are receptive to U.S. forces, but less so if there is Taliban presence or informants in the area.
Hendrickson said he is glad he joined the Army. He said it has taught him a lot and helped him grow up; his Iraq deployment helped shape who he is and gave him a drive to go to college.
“I joined the Army because I always wanted to be a soldier and felt a need to serve my country,” he said. He also has family in the Army. His first deployment was with his brother, and now his brother-in-law has enlisted.
ROTC training was a great experience, he said. The time commitment for an ROTC cadet at any college is much like that of a student athlete, but it prepares future leaders for the Army.
“The life of a soldier has its ups and downs, but being a soldier is a very rewarding and selfless profession,” Hendrickson said. “I take a lot of pride in wearing my uniform every day.”