Countdown to Deployment: A FOX28 Special Report - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Countdown to Deployment: A FOX28 Special Report

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Just a few days from now, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg will leave home for deployment to Afghanistan.  Before he leaves, I sat down with him for a long conversation. We talked about how he thinks he's leaving the city. We also talked about what led him to serve.

He describes growing up in a family that "believes in our country." His father came to this country to get an education and become an American. His grandfather was a career military man, but for the mayor, the turning point came after college. "So all the reasons for not serving started to feel like excuses," says Buttigieg 

The year was 2008. After graduating from Harvard and being a Rhodes Scholar, Pete Buttigieg was going door to door as a campaign volunteer in Iowa. "I was in this lower income community in Iowa where everybody was military," says Buttigieg. "And very few people I could think of from Harvard, had served at all. And I started asking myself, if I wasn't part of the problem."

So right then, he says he made the decision to serve his country by joining the Naval Reserves. "I just feel like the opportunity to give something back and to make myself useful that way," says Buttigieg. "That's something I'm proud of and something I'm grateful for."

He was commissioned as an officer in 2009. Last September, he received a promotion to Lieutenant, but he also learned he'd be deployed to Afghanistan for seven months.He leaves South Bend on February 28th. "You know, a part of me is eager to do a job that I've trained for and something I always knew could be part of the deal," says Buttigieg. "The part I'm not excited about is being away. First of all, just being away from a job that means everything to me and also being away from our city."

He laments missing the city he calls "sweet in the summer," bike riding around town, a whole Silver Hawks season and carrying out all of the programs his administration is trying to build momentum with. "I've tried to make sure that everyone in the administration understands my expectations," says Buttigieg. "That nothing goes on pause, nothing stops and above all, no resident should feel their city government skipped a beat just because I'm away."

He's confident they are up for the challenge. "Will I be biting my nails cause I'm away from a city I love and an administration I care about, yeah absolutely," says Buttigieg. "But not because I have anything but total confidence in our team, just cause I'll wish I was here in the trenches to help get it done."

I asked, what he could tell us about his work while deployed.  "Not as much as I would like, unfortunately," says Buttigieg. "What I can say, I'm an intelligence officer. Work on issues related to terrorism. And I have been training to do this kind of work for a long time."

It's slightly familiar territory as he has been to Afghanistan a couple of times as a civilian consultant. "It certainly helps that I've been out there before,' says Buttigieg. "I think I have a sense of what to expect. I have a sense for the country, the environment, the culture and even a little bit of the language which helps."

Still, he knows this experience will be different, and he has a lot to learn. He says he's never been in uniform for more than two weeks, and he admits Afghanistan is a difficult environment - but you can't dwell on the danger. He pointed out several times that he is just one of many in his shoes. "I hope people realize that the war isn't just something that's happening over there somewhere," says Buttigieg. "It's happening in communities and homes and hometowns and families all across America - that are having to share people."

Buttigieg says this experience will make him a better mayor.  "As a mayor, I exercise a lot of authority and a lot of control," says Buttigieg. "And that can go to your head if you're not careful. So maybe to go from Mayor Pete to Lieutenant. Pete for a while, maybe that's a healthy thing because a small piece of a very big operation gives you a kind of perspective."

I asked if he had concerns this impacting his political future, but he says that doesn't factor in to situation.  "I can't worry about that," says Buttigieg. "This is bigger than me and bigger than my career."

"I've always felt doing the right thing is good politics and hopefully that proves to be the case right here as well," he adds.

No matter what happens overseas or politically, the mayor is very clear, saying there's no greater service to our country - by him or anyone else.

"We're so lucky to part of America," says Buttigieg. "We can't take it for granted. I think it would serve us all well for more of us - and especially more of us who are involved in the political process - to have served."

I had to press him a bit to talk about what he's not looking forward to. His response was not having the food and creature comforts of home. He says one of his first orders of business, when he gets home, would be to get a burger from C.J.'s Pub.

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