N.O. soldiers deploy to Middle East with unusual mission

The soldiers and their families who gathered Saturday at the National World War II Museum had the same emotions as most service members facing a tour of duty: a mix of anxiety and pride.

Once overseas, though, the reservists will have a bit of a different task than most of their counterparts stationed in a war zone: money management.

While not the usual reason soldiers are deployed, the New Orleans-based unit’s mission is equally important to Operation Enduring Freedom, Army officials said.

During the next nine months to a year, the 30 members of the 469th Financial Management Support Center will establish finance policy, enforce regulations and guidelines, and advise theater commanders about how to spend money.

Officials expect the soldiers to handle $70 million to $80 million in contracts and disbursements.

In a speech before the soldiers and their families, Maj. Gen. Peter Lennon, commander of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, told the soldiers that he expects them to execute their duties with the understanding that taxpayers expect fiduciary responsibility from the Army.

“This team owes that to the American people,” Lennon said.

The 469th, based at the James H. Diamond Army Reserve Center in Gentilly, is a subordinate unit of the 377th Command, which is based out of the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse.

The unit members will undergo additional training at Fort Dix in New Jersey before deploying to Kuwait and fanning out to other countries as needed, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar.

This is the third time the 469th has deployed to the Middle East.

While some soldiers are making a repeat trip, others will be there for the first time.

Regardless of whether a soldier has been deployed before, Lennon said, he has confidence in them, calling the unit the “greatest of the current generation.”

“You’re the cream of the crop. We’ll expect you to serve like the cream of the crop,” he said.

This deployment will be the fifth for Maj. Daryl Anderson, an active-duty soldier.

He said Lennon and other superiors should have nothing to worry about.

“We’ve been trained for this. We’re prepared,” he said.

Still, for all the preparation that can be done on the work front, it can be hard on the home front.

Anderson said he’ll leave behind a 15-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter.

“They don’t want to see Dad leave, but they know it’s his job,” he said.

Technology has helped to close the physical divide between friends and loved ones back home, said 1st Lt. Shawn Briggs, who has been a reservist for 16 years.

Thanks to technology such as Skype, he’ll be able to participate in a friend’s wedding while on the other side of the globe.

“It’s completely different,” he said of deployments these days.

Still, there won’t be anything like touching back down on American soil next year when the unit returns.

“July 4 will be a big party because we’ll (expect to) be getting back July 1,” he said.

Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter, @DCMonteverde.