DURHAM — Don Barbee, one of the many soldiers who helped keep the U.S. armed forces at the forefront of technology as a communications specialist, thought his Army career was over when he retired in June.
Then came “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Now, Barbee, a former employee at Data center One who recently became a security guard for a private firm and was posted to Cisco Systems, is back in uniform and preparing to go to war.
“My country needs me,” Barbee tells Local Tech Wire. “I didn’t give it one thought.
“Anyone who has been in the military as long as I have would not even give it a thought.”
Barbee, talking by cell phone, was at Fort Bragg, getting his dental records updated when LTW contacted him. Just a few days ago, his Army Reserve unit — the 171st Area Support Group in Garner — received word that it was being mobilized for Gulf War II. Short on some personnel, the unit contacted Barbee and asked him if he would “unretire.”
“I’m a little bit worried, but it comes with the territory,” he says, noting the eerie experience of getting the dental records updated. “Anybody who says they aren’t concerned at all — something is wrong.”
He fully expects to be deployed to Kuwait at any time and isn’t expecting an easy time.
“We know we have been taking casualties,” Barbee says, pointing out he has been following the war quite closely. “We also knew this was coming. We’re hoping to get the job done and get it done as quickly as possible.”
Barbee, 44, is married and has two children. His wife is an assistant principal at a Durham school and his two children are 13 and 12. While he doesn’t want to leave them and they will worry about him, Barbee says the family’s sense of duty prevailed.
“I talked to them,” he says of his decision to “re-up.” “Oh yes, they support me. They know the state the country is in.”
Anyone following “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is fully aware of how technology has transformed warfare, especially with reporters embedded with military units who are using satellite phones and other technology to broadcast the drive to Baghdad live and in color.
Barbee, a Durham native who retired after three years of active duty and 22 years in the reserves as a Master Sergeant and gets his old rank back, says his specialty was in demand. And he’ll soon be helping his unit provide the real-time information infrastructure that has become so crucial to today’s armed forces.
“We provide communications and telecommunications, service telephones, radios, computers and wireless technology,” he says. “Over the last 25 years there have been amazing changes, and they’re for the better.”
One item that has impressed him are encrypted satellite phones, but he adds, “I can’t tell you too much about that.”
Despite having retired 10 months ago, Barbee says he’s not worried about being behind the technology curve. “I’ve stayed on top of things.”
Praising his former C.O.
Among the friends sending Barbee off to the war is Ed Carney, the senior executive at Cisco’s RTP campus who is a former US Army Ranger. Barbee served in Carney’s unit while both were on active duty in Germany years ago.
“Outstanding,” Barbee says enthusiastically about his former commanding officer. “He’s one of those people anybody would love to work for — no matter what the work, no matter what the pay. He’s an outstanding individual.”
Carney was in his office one day when Barbee went by to re-introduce himself.
“I knew he was there,” Barbee says, “but he didn’t know I was until I walked up to his office.”
Talking with me last week at an appearance in Raleigh, I asked Carney if he had any desire to rejoin his former mates. Carney pointed out that some of his West Point classmates now hold senior positions in the Army and are in the Gulf. He also made a point to tell me about Barbee.
“Good man,” Carney said. “Good man.”
Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.