When members of the 304th Brigade returned home to Texas after a yearlong deployment in Iraq this past November, they were greeted by more than just excited family and friends at Fort Bliss. Also waiting in the wings at the coming home ceremony was Army Sgt. Maj. Doris Long, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army and a member of the 304th.Next to Long were stacks of freshly printed and hard-bound “deployment yearbooks.” Delivered with only three days to spare, the pages of 304th Brigade’s deployment yearbook capture the unit’s journey, as well serve as a historical record of the deployment. The book provides insight into the life of a soldier on tour.
“It’s their memories, their photographs,” said Long. “That book captures the spirit of every soldier in that brigade and every picture has a story.” According to Long, it all started with a statement from the Brigade Commander, Col. Norman B. Green. “He said ‘I would like a book to document our deployment’ and I just took off with it,” said Long, who used many of her own photos in the book, as well as collecting hundreds from other soldiers.
For many soldiers, the pictures and the stories in a deployment yearbook can help them explain things to family and friends that are often difficult to articulate.
“You build a completely different relationship with people abroad,” said Long. “It helps the soldiers and the families understand the different relationships and to delineate between the relationships in combat and in a safe environment.”
For soldiers that have a difficult time reintegrating back into civilian culture, deployment books can play a particularly important role.
“They are mentally and physically exhausted when they get back.” said Long. “I keep a copy in the car and when I run into a soldier we’ll look at the yearbook and laugh and say ‘do you remember this?’ It lightens their spirits.”
Long worked with Entourage Yearbooks of Princeton, NJ to complete the deployment book for the 304th Brigade. Like other soldiers that work on yearbooks, Long spent many late nights in Iraq working on the book in order to catch Entourage staff early in the morning back in the United States.
“Entourage was wonderful about explaining everything to me,” said Long, who had no previous design, layout or yearbook experience before working on 304th Brigade’s book. “In my mind’s eye, I had what I believed it should look like and Entourage was able to help me articulate that vision in an amazing way.”
“It’s an honor to work with members of the armed forces on their deployment books,” said Ellen Sillery, Long’s account manager at Entourage. “To learn how much our services and products mean to returning soldiers and their families is something in which we take great pride.”
Long has found the yearbook helpful in her own life, as well. Before her deployment, Long often had conversations with a neighbor who worried about Long being sent to Iraq. When her deployment ended, she brought the yearbook to the neighbor and walked her through it, stopping often to tell stories about the soldiers and what they had experienced together.
“It helps family and friends understand and relate,” said Long. “I think it helps with the healing process for everyone.”