Sgt. Matt Henneke, La Grande, a communications specialist assigned to Eastern Oregon’s Oregon Army Guard unit, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, tests a radio in a Humvee July 12 at the Orchard Combat Training Center south of Boise, Idaho. Henneke is a member of the battalion’s communications team. (PAT CALDWELL, WesCom News Service)
La Grande soldier follows father’s career path in military
La Grande’s Matt Henneke came to the region’s Guard outfit in a roundabout fashion but in a real way his decision to join the military traces its roots to a strong family tradition.
Henneke, 37, works full-time as a computer help desk technician with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, but once a month he steps away from his desk and dons his uniform to work as a communications specialist with Eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment.
Henneke isn’t new to the military. He first joined the U.S. Army in 1995, a decision, he said, that was right in line with a strong family tradition. His father served as an active duty U.S. Marine until he retired. His father’s active duty career meant Henneke moved around a lot as a child but he said while he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and contribute to his nation, he didn’t want to be a Marine.
“I wanted to be different,” Henneke said about his decision to join the Army and not the Marines.
At first glance, Henneke’s full-time job with the Confederated Tribes may seem to be a far cry from his duties with the 3rd Battalion. Yet, Henneke admitted that both jobs translate into helping people. For the 3rd Battalion, his job is critical. Henneke works with a crew of communications specialists who must maintain and fix the array of different communications platforms the battalion utilizes.
From computers to laptops to tank radios, the 3rd Battalion’s mission pivots around the ability to communicate. If one of those communication links goes down it can trigger a host of challenges.
“The radios are really important for battlefield awareness,” Henneke said.
The critical point of Henneke’s job arrives when the battalion journeys to the Orchard Combat Training Center south of Boise, Idaho, to conduct gunnery exercises. The vast range plays host to the battalion’s M1A2 SEP Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles during many weekend drills during the year and when the summer annual training maneuvers kick off.
On one weekend in July, Henneke and his fellow communications specialists arrived on a Friday and immediately went to work fixing various communication platforms.
“We went out to the ranges and we looked at and fixed four different vehicles that had some form of radio problems,” he said.
The problems, he said, ran the spectrum of difficulty from easy to difficult.
“It’s a job and we do it step by step,” he said.
Henneke said his crew finished up Friday night at about 11:30 p.m. and then turned right around the next morning and traveled back out to the gunnery ranges to troubleshoot communication devices.
If there is a single major obstacle at the Orchard Training Center it is the climate, Henneke said.
“The heat. It’s hot,” he said.
Still, he said, his Guard job offers up a variety of different problem-solving exercises every day.
“It is nice we don’t usually have the same problems. Or each vehicle might have the same problem but from a different cause,” he said.
Another complication to the Orchard Combat Training Center job is the small communications support crew Henneke is part of. The communications specialists, he said are spread out all over the vast range.
Henneke arrived at the 3rd Battalion in the late 1990s after he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army and wanted to go to college. He decided to study graphic arts and Eastern Oregon University seemed like a good place to start he said.
“It was a good fit,” he said.
Henneke said he isn’t sure if he will stay on with the National Guard after he reaches his 20-year retirement benchmark. But he said he was happy he has been able to serve his country.
“I’m glad to serve my country and state,” he said.