Time away from family is part of the deployment experience. But for two 28th Infantry Division Soldiers, mobilization has created an opportunity to build upon a familial bond.
Cousins, Sgt. 1st Class Zach Barnett, from Pittsburgh, and 1st Lt. Ryan Redilla, of New Florence, Pa., are serving in Qatar with Task Force Liberty, part of Task Force Spartan. They met several years ago through their service in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. When they did, they realized they’d seen each other before at family functions.
“I recognized his face from going to weddings,” Barnett said. “We met each other, and I said, ‘I think we’re related.’”
“We’re second cousins; our grandmothers were sisters,” Redilla explained.
Their initial meeting occurred in 2016, when both drilled at the Lindsay armory in Johnstown, Pa. The pair didn’t bump into each other again until earlier this year, during a training event for the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 28th ID’s deployment.
“I literally saw him for the second time in my life and in my military career at annual training at Fort Indiantown Gap, during the command post exercise,” Barnett said.
Barnett and Redilla mobilized together in October. HHBN is deployed as the headquarters element of Task Force Spartan, a unique multi-component organization comprised of active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers located throughout southwest Asia, including Qatar.
“Qatar is a smaller mission set. It’s odd that of the number of Soldiers who came here, we’re together,” Barnett said. “But it’s cool to have somebody you know and are related to. It’s an interesting experience.”
Redilla serves with Task Force Liberty as a contract support officer and Barnett is an all-source intelligence analyst. Barnett also deployed in 2018 when HHBN mobilized for its first Task Force Spartan rotation. Redilla is on his first deployment.
Barnett got to meet Redilla’s mother at Harrisburg Military Post while troops were weighing in their bags on the first day of this mobilization. Barnett normally drills with HHBN’s Intelligence & Sustainment Company, while Redilla, an augmentee for the deployment, normally drills with Echo Company, 128th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Both Barnett and Redilla hold bachelor’s degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Redilla also has a master’s degree in business administration from IUP while Barnett earned his MBA through Point Park University. Barnett has served in the Pa. Army National Guard for 13 years. As a civilian, he is a senior supply chain analyst for a military contractor. Redilla has served in the Guard for eight years. Outside the military, he counsels autistic children and works as a substitute teacher for grades kindergarten through 12.
The cousins often find themselves in the same office spaces and briefings at Camp As Sayliyah. They also have opportunities to spend down time together and learn about their relatives, including the nine siblings of their grandmothers.
“It’s not like we’re reminiscing. We’re bringing up the family tree and finding out things,” Redilla said.
The pair’s great-grandmother was named Clark and is the namesake of the annual late-August family reunion. The two Task Force Liberty Soldiers hope to be settled back in Pennsylvania in time for the Clark gathering.
“I go every year,” Redilla said.
“I used to go as a kid,” Barnett said. “I think I might have to make an appearance this year.”