By Johnny Jackson
While many soldiers are spending the holiday season away from family and friends, some see a larger purpose behind their military service.
"As long as there is still a threat to our great nation, I will continue to serve," said Georgia Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Rodney Bettis, of the 108th Cavalry Regiment, 48th Brigade.
Bettis has three children with his wife, Angie -- son, Khory Bettis, and daughters, Kaitlyn Bettis and Rhonda Ramsey, who has a son, Riley, with David Ramsey.
Rodney Bettis, a Stockbridge native, is a military veteran who has toured Iraq and served a combined 14 years in the Georgia Army National Guard.
"I first enlisted in the Georgia Army National Guard in 1985," he said. "I was honorably discharged in 1993, [and] after an 11-year break, I re-enlisted in January 2004."
Rodney Bettis has been deployed for the past eight months in Afghanistan. He began his latest tour at Camp Blackhorse in Kabul, Afghanistan. He is currently stationed at Forward Operating Base Hughie in Jalalabad.
"I turned in my orders to my employer back in December 2008," said Rodney Bettis, an explosive detection K-9 handler for the City of Atlanta Police Department. He said he will celebrate 20 years with the city on March 28.
With the 108th Cavalry Regiment, Rodney Bettis is a forward observer (13F) in charge of the commander's security detachment.
"I am assigned to the squadron commander's personal security detail," he said. "I am the lead navigator and ground commander when the squadron commander dismounts while out on patrol. We are tasked with training the Afghanistan National Army, Afghanistan National Police and the Afghanistan Border Police."
Bettis said he misses his family at home, but is encouraged by the impact his job has had on police forces in the Middle Eastern nation.
Afghanistan is his second overseas assignment. He spent his first deployment in Iraq.
"This is a totally different deployment, because service members from all branches are working together," said Rodney Bettis.
He said the most favorable part of his latest deployment has been "making new friends, both American and Afghans, and knowing that I am making a difference."
"The worst part is losing good friends in combat," he continued. "Yes, it is combat and people still die in combat, but there is no way to prepare for that type of incident."
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Bisson said maintaining one's confidence and friendships in combat zones is vital in dealing with being away from loved ones.
"As long as you have good morale, and you get along with the people you work with, you can deal with it," said Bisson, now a U.S. Army recruiter in McDonough.
As a member of the 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Benning, Bisson served three tours in Iraq and missed two Christmas seasons. He said he spent those Christmases with members of his squadron, and they opened their gifts together on Christmas Day.
"For me, it wasn't bad," Bisson continued. "My wife sent me a Christmas gift, and my parents did the same. You've got to have a good support group and a good family base in order to handle it, and the people you work with can make a big difference as well."
Rodney Bettis said his deployments have equally affected his family.
"It is not only hard on me being away from the ones that I love but the ones that I am away from have a hard time also," he said. "I have missed so much this year, my son making the football and wrestling team, and my youngest daughter making the color guard team for their school.
"As long as my children and grandchildren do not have to worry about their freedom, I will always serve my country," he continued. "The freedom that we have at home is taken for granted by so many people. [However,] the people of Afghanistan hopefully will be able to enjoy that same freedom one day."