January 10, 2005

Deploying Soldiers experience NASCAR first hand


The Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard help move the car out of the pit area. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Tammy Spence, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office)

By Staff Sgt. Tammy Spence
GuardPost Staff Writer

Four lucky Soldiers received a last minute invitation to attend the Martinsville NASCAR race with VIP access to pit row and the pit crew for the number 16 National Guard Car driven by Gregg Biffle. Prior to the race, the Soldiers pushed the car through the various stages of the NASCAR inspection where officials made sure the car was “legal”. Once this was completed, they pushed the car down pit row onto the track itself and then watched the race from the pit area.

The Soldiers participating in this event were Sgt. Mike McGrath, Sgt. Erika Weaver, Spc. Mark Fitzwater and Pfc. Lee Mathias. All of them with the exception of McGrath are with the 1173rd Transportation Company. McGrath is from the 229th MP Company and volunteered along with Sgt. Gerald Clemends to deploy with the 1173rd.

Originally Weaver, Mathais and Fitzwater were from the 229th Chemical Company specializing as 74 D’s (chemical operations specialist). When the 1710th and the 229th Chemical company were incorporated into the 1173rd, the Soldiers were reclassified and sent to school for three weeks to become 88M’s (Motor Transport Operators). According to Mathias, “the school was actually an MOS school and was six weeks in length but they changed it to three weeks to prepare them to deploy.” When asked how he was chosen to participate with the event, he said, “I was sitting on my cot and one of the guys came over and asked if anyone wanted a free pass to the race. I said sure so I just found out yesterday.”

Mathais completed his school in June and when he heard about the mobilization, begged the admin NCO to let him go. His first reason for entering the military was to serve his country. His goal is to become a commissioned officer but he wants “battle” experience first so when he does get commissioned, he will understand how his Soldiers feel and what they go through because he has been there. When asked how his family feels about his deploying he said, My mom is very torn up about it and my dad doesn’t want me to go but he is ex army and understands.” Mathais is an only child but has a strong desire to serve his country.

Another Soldier excited about the deployment is Weaver. She worked as a phlebotomist in a hospital lab for 12 years prior to joining the Guard. When asked why she didn’t go into a medical unit, she said she wanted something different and there weren’t many other options for units that allowed females and when she found out that the 229th accepted females, she jumped at the chance. She has been in the National Guard for seven years and as she excitedly states, “I love driving big trucks.” Her husband isn’t too happy about her deployment but supports her 100%.

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