NEWBERRY — Newberry native and Richland County Highway Patrolman Chad Barnett and his brother Lee recently returned from Army National Guard tours in Afghanistan.
For Chad Barnett his time in the service focused around two objectives: achieve that day’s mission and make it home safely. That same mentality enters into his life as a highway patrolman.
As a Chinook pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Chad Barnett was part of a team including up to three crew chiefs who were responsible for maintaining the aircraft, for security, for loading and unloading cargo and for seeing after any soldiers being transported, including special operations forces, and the other pilot in command who was responsible for everything on board the aircraft.
Barnett and his S.C. National Guard comrades were paired with an Illinois National Guard Unit and the flight crews were grouped from that pairing. By having different crew members flying on the missions during 24/7 scheduling, he said commanding officers ensured the troops did not become too complacent, and that extra alertness and attention results in a more effective force.
A guard member since 2008, this was his first active duty deployment. He deployed with First Detachment Bravo Company 2nd division of the 238th Aviation Division. His unit assisted the First Infantry and the Third Infantry with removing allied troops from regions whose security responsibilities are being handed over to the local government.
The Chinooks also transported munitions, medical supplies, lookout towers and other heavy duty equipment where the other option would have been wheeled vehicle transport via supply line, a method that carried more risks.
Due to the Afghanistan terrain, the Chinook was often the best option for those missions, missions during which Barnett said he relied repeatedly on the crew around him to achieve success.
Depending on the landing zone and the amount of fine sand in the area, he and his crew often faced brown out conditions, meaning there was so much sand in the air that he couldn’t see in front of him to land his aircraft. At such times he relied on the line of sight of his crew chiefs and on technique to get the helicopter on the ground, load cargo and haul it wherever his orders said to do so.
“It’s another day at the office and no matter what, we still do our job inside the aircraft,” he said.
Duty and service are a way of life for Barnett. He left behind a young wife and infant son when he was called up for the year-long deployment.
He said a half dozen people in his unit had young children or had children born while on the 11-month deployment. He said it was most difficult on wives and mothers.
“For them back home, there are fewer things they can control (from a mission standpoint than we) so they have very little control over (what happens) and that is hard on them,” he said.
“The bond between crew members was one like family,” he said. “We would joke around and things but we were all business when we stepped into that cockpit.”
For Barnett law enforcement is high stress and high pace. The same mentality that served him well in the military continues to serve him well, he said, back home as a highway patrolman. The margin for error, he said, is very slim.
Barnett said law enforcement is more stressful in some ways than military service because a threat could come from any person at any time, whereas in a foreign country troops face different kinds of threats.
“(In both jobs) we treat people with the utmost respect and at the same time are on guard because (there is risk associated) and we have training and ways to keep us safe as we carry out our duties,” he said.
But there is risk in being a patrolman, too. Barnett said he has seen more fatalities from his time in law enforcement than from his time in the military. Yet the Citadel graduate said he, like his brother, loves to protect and serve this country and this region.
His brother, Lee, a highway patrolman living in Newberry County, will be featured in an upcoming edition of The Newberry Observer.