NEWBERRY — Protective instincts are at the heart of the dual calling of Trooper Lee Barnett, a member of the S.C. National Guard who served as a personal protector to an Army Chaplain during a recent nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Per the Geneva Convention, a chaplain is guarded by his or her faith, so he or she is not allowed to carry a weapon. Instead cross pins on the chaplain’s uniform denote him or her as a noncombatant.
Chaplains are assigned a personal protector who accompanies them when they are out on patrol with units. Enter Barnett, a Newberry native and resident, who served as a chaplain’s assistant/personal protector.
While stateside, Barnett assists with worship services and ministerial duties for the battalion. When in country, he continues to help with those duties but basically is a bodyguard, too.
He said he was aware of no specific threats made against chaplains, but while out on patrol the chaplains removed the cross lapels as a way to minimized chances they could be targeted by extremists hostile against the religion the office represents.
Barnett joined the Guard in 2009.
“I always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and law enforcement satisfied that to a degree, but I wanted to do military service, too,” he said.
His wife, Tanya, was supportive and his two children, Jamie and Will, were too. Barnett had one more obstacle to a military career though: His weight. He weighed 315 pounds until 2008 when a running regimen around the Newberry area got the weight off.
“I started running around down town Newberry going a half mile and further,” he said. “By the time I deployed I could run seven miles.“
He went on patrol with troops in the Paktika province and worked with a forward operating base there. The patrols were part of his mission with the 178th Engineering Battalion tearing down forward operating bases the Army no longer needed since its forces are being reduced in Afghanistan and its mission has changed.
He was in country from August 2012 to May 2013. The deployment overlapped with that of his brother, Chad, so he received permission to visit his brother at his base for a few days.
Lee Barnett said part of the attraction to military discipline came from his time at Newberry High School when he marched under the direction of Lorraine Paris in ninth and 10th grades. He is a 1997 graduate of Newberry High School.
“Ms. Paris really had a paramilitary outlook on how we did things, to tell you the truth,” he said.
That marching and his numerous picks to the brick pile to bring her a brick (often the wrong one) meant he knew how to fall into formation at The Citadel. He played trumpet for the Blue Brigade, so he was assigned bugle call duty at The Citadel.
Barnett changed majors at The Citadel from political science to psychology. Upon graduation he went into law enforcement in 2002 with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office.
He and his wife decided to move back to his hometown to raise their family in 2007. He initially worked with the Newberry Police Department from 2007 to 2011 but now works for the S.C. Highway Patrol in Laurens and Newberry counties.
The hardest part of deployment is being away from my family, he said. He was stationed with the 1050th Infantry Transportation Battalion but then was asked to deploy with the 178th Engineering Battalion.
After praying about it, he and his wife decided he was being called to go there and needed to serve.
“Tanya said as much as she worried about me going, she didn’t feel like she could ask me to stay,” Barnett said.
Law enforcement training helped prepare him for the COIN mission the Army is now doing in Afghanistan providing support functions to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.
He was used to dealing with the public, helping diffuse potentially volatile situations from his time on patrol where a police officer could encounter anything at any time.
Now back stateside, Lee, like his brother who also served in the National Guard and the S.C. Highway Patrol, said the military training helped sharpen his instincts to make him an even more effective trooper.