Salisbury Guardsman ready for Mideast deployment

Working amid empty desks and piles of equipment crates, Platoon Sgt. Lee Beauchamp feels ready for his pending deployment to the Middle East in August with the 198th Expeditionary Signal Battalion of the Delaware National Guard, based in Georgetown.

Beauchamp, who lives in Salisbury, is looking forward to this new adventure.

“We’ve been preparing for about nine months,” Beauchamp said.

 In a sense, he’s been preparing for the past 19 years. That’s how long he’s been with the National Guard, which he joined as a student at the University of Delaware where he studied civil engineering.

He spent the first 18 of those years with the 287th Army Band, based in Wilmington. He plays trumpet and bass guitar.

“I enjoyed that time,” he said. But despite that, when he heard about Operation Inherent Resolve looking for volunteers, Beauchamp responded. He doesn’t know exactly where he’ll be going, but it will be somewhere in the Middle East. On Aug. 8, the battalion will leave Georgetown for Fort Hood, Texas, where the soldiers will spend a month or so in final preparations for deployment.

The Georgetown unit specializes in communications, mainly via satellite but also provides support in internet, video conferencing, phones, network hubs and whatever is needed for the soldiers they will be supporting to get the job done.

At age 37, Beauchamp is one of the most senior members of his current battalion. Since leaving the Army band in October, he’s been recertified and is now a satellite communications chief. He manages around 40 soldiers, most of them in their 20s.

The soldiers will transition from part-time National Guard scheduling to full-time active duty in the U.S. Army for the duration of the year-long deployment.

“This has been life-changing for me,” he said. “The best part is I get to help younger soldiers by offering career guidance. With the training they receive in this unit, they will be able to transition easily to the IT field in civilian life, where they will be able to work in satellite communications, dish networks and other communication support companies.”

The 198th will not be on the battlefront, but that doesn’t mean they won’t face any danger.

“Our bases of operation will be fortified and protected, but sometimes they can be targets,” Beauchamp said.

Beauchamp quit his full-time job as Vice President of Delmarva Veteran Builders to make the changes necessary for the deployment, which have included three months of additional school.

“In the National Guard, it takes 25 years of service before you are considered a veteran,” he said.

So even after 19 years, he’s not considered a veteran. He’s not sure whether he’ll go back into the construction field when he returns. For now, he’s focused on pre-deployment work.

“My job is to keep everyone safe, occupied and engaged until we deploy,” Beauchamp said. “If I can just keep all of them out of harm’s way until it’s time to leave.”

With the schooling that’s available through the U.S. Army, Beauchamp said, while they’re in the Middle East these young men and women should be able to come home and earn as much as $90,000 to $100,000 a year with the skills they will acquire. And they’ll have no student debt to pay off.

“For them, the sky is the limit,” he said.

While he’s away, Beauchamp will be leaving his dog, an English setter, with his mother.

During his years with the 287th Army Band, he often played for deployment or return ceremonies.

“Those were my favorite parts of the job,” he said. “Playing for those send-offs gave me a real sense of pride.”

In August, he will be on the other side of that ceremony as his former band-mates give the 198th Expeditionary Signal Battalion a musical send-off as they leave for Fort Hood.

Another thing Beauchamp does is to help the younger soldiers who serve under his command set goals for their return by encouraging them to work on certifications and complete distance learning courses while they are deployed.

“Me, I’d like to do some sailing when I get back,” Beauchamp said, smiling. He sailed to Bermuda last summer on his 43-foot sailboat.

A farewell party for Beauchamp will be held this Sunday, July 7, from 3 to 7 p.m. at Mojo’s on Main Street in Salisbury. Anyone who would like to say goodbye or offer well-wishes is welcome to attend.

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