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Duty calls again

 Will Conley is a wanted man.

As the lead technologist in nuclear medicine at ETMC Athens, he holds a key position in a very specialized field, one that enjoys nationwide demand.

As a major in the 225th Engineer Brigade out of Louisiana, Conley also knows another kind of demand: one that is calling him, again, in service to his country.

In October, Conley will head to Iraq for a month, where the current combat engineering unit on the ground will debrief him.

 Iraq Conley 
In this file photo, Major Will Conley of the 225th Engineer Brigade out of Louisiana (pointing) conducts a briefing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Conley, the lead technologist in nuclear medicine at ETMC Athens, will soon begin a 15-month tour in Iraq as an intelligence and electronic warfare officer. As a member of the National Guard, Conley also served a 12-month tour in Afghanistan. 


“I’ll see what they’re doing construction-wise and see what’s happening with the route clearing, then I’ll come back and pick up the rest of the brigade,” said Conley.

Army National Guard
His brigade is part of the Louisiana Army National Guard, which Conley joined right out of high school. He has spent time serving the Louisiana National Guard both in the infantry and combat engineers ever since.

This tour in Iraq – expected to be 15 months – is far from Conley’s first rodeo.

His combat heavy engineering battalion spent 12 months, from 2004 to 2005, in Afghanistan as Part of Operation Enduring Freedom. There, they converted a 95-mile path from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt into a full-fledged road, despite temperatures that soared to around 140 degrees and occasional rocket attacks on their tent compound.

“It went from a goat trail to a blacktop,” said Conley, whose job was to control the movement of equipment and troops and determine mission assignments. Whenever possible, though, he was checking back in by email on the nuclear medicine department he helped create.

“Every e-mail I got from him was, ‘How’s the department doing?’” recalled Richard Vasquez, director of radiology at ETMC Athens.

Conley had been back at the hospital less than three months when his National Guard unit was re-activated to help prepare for the approaching hurricane Katrina. As it turned out, his battalion was one of the first units assisting on the initial repair work to the levee system in New Orleans.

“We were a quick fix to stop the massive flooding,” said Conley, who served as operations officer.

In the three years since, things have been relatively quiet until a few months ago when he received word he would be heading to Iraq.

“That’s the drawback of having a specialty like combat engineering,” he said. “There are just not enough engineers out there.”

This tour of duty
This tour will be different for Conley, who will be serving as S-2 Intelligence Officer/Electronic Warfare Officer. He just returned from two months attending Electronic Warfare Officer Training School, where he studied the methods of using the electromagnetic spectrum to block radio-controlled IEDs. IEDs – or improvised explosive devices – are what have injured and taken the lives of so many soldiers and civilians traveling the roads of Iraq.

“In 2005, 80 percent of IEDs were radio controlled – meaning they could be activated from miles away. Now it’s about 15 percent,” said Conley.

A major factor in the decline of radio-controlled IEDs can be attributed to the technology taught at the school Conley attended.

“We have to figure out the trends of what the enemy is using to activate the IEDs – a child’s electronic toy, a garage door opener, a cell phone – and then employ the same type of signal to jam the device,” said Conley.

“Before training, I wasn’t so sure about the technology. But now, I’m telling you, I believe. … They still have command-wire IEDs and pressure plates, but they don’t have the security of being cowards near as much anymore. Somebody’s got to be within shooting distance to detonate it. Our guys mostly want a chance at a fair fight.”

The main mission of the 225th Engineer Brigade will be to clear the route sites. And Conley will be “hands-on and doing Intel.” That is, he will be mixing with the populus in an attempt to gain useful information to execute that mission.

“When Will departs again to serve his country, he’ll be missed here very much,” said Radiology Director Vasquez. “We’ll all pray for his safety and well-being and count the days till he returns.”

Conley is fully aware of the risk involved and makes no bones about the fact that leaving his family and profession – the life he knows – for 15 months is not something he’s pleased about. He is, however, committed to doing the best job possible and even excited about using the new training he’s acquired.

“I’m going with my friends, who I’ve trained with and been around forever. But I’m concerned about leaving here. You do what you gotta do.”

Conley and his wife, Cindy, have two daughters: Autumn Parrish (she and her husband will soon become new parents) and Brooke Oliver.