Capt. Jim Grassmyer is a "tweener" of sorts, and it has worked out for him.
As commander of the Altoona-based 298th Maintenance Company, an Army Reserve unit, Grassmyer is a generation older than most of his charges.
He's old enough that he can draw on what he's seen to guide them, not so old he's out of touch.
"There are a few years between me and the other soldiers," said Grassmyer, an Altoona native on his third Middle East deployment. "I've been there, experienced some of these things, and I'm used to these outcomes.
"[Still] I can relate with them pretty well."
The 298th is getting ready to come home from Iraq after a year's deployment. Half the soldiers in the unit are from the regular company roster and the rest from other units in Pennsylvania and around the country.
Many of those from other states had different values and expectations connected with their work fixing trucks, forklifts and cranes.
A commander needs to understand those differences, as well as the differences arising from individual backgrounds, said Grassmyer, who spoke from Iraq by phone Monday.
At the same time, he needs to realize they all must abide by the same set of rules, different from those in civilian life, he said.
It takes a paternalistic approach, Grassmyer said.
"You just have to treat them like your kids," he said. "Respect them, nurture them, and if they screw up, correct them."
And make sure they stay focused.
Safety is a major emphasis, because the mechanics, machinists and welders work among lots of moving parts, Grassmyer said.
Correction sometimes took the form of calling those who took safety shortcuts to account.
He'd let them know they made a mistake, but he does it with respect, he said.
"I was coach, teacher and mentor," Grassmyer said.
They eventually "jelled" and performed their mission "pretty well," he said.
No one came under fire and no one was hurt.
Grassmyer's First Sgt. Wayne Brahler likewise took a paternalistic approach.
"My job was taking care of all the soldiers," said Brahler, the senior noncommissioned officer.
Brahler was responsible for solving morale problems and issues connected with sleeping quarters, mail delivery and food - "everything a soldier needs to function," he said.
He informed them about the orders of the day, when they needed to get into formation and when they needed to train. He helped them deal with financial matters, family issues, problems with carrying out orders.
And Brahler helped them navigate the protocol for promotion - a protocol that's harder to do from overseas.
The responsibilities were heavier for both men in the past year than during previous deployments.
Grassmyer was only a staff officer in his last one.
Brahler was only a young soldier responsible only for himself in his last one - Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm 20 years ago.
Brahler enjoyed the change.
"If you can help a soldier get something accomplished, it's pretty rewarding," he said.
On Sunday, the company formally transferred responsibility for its mission to a unit from San Antonio.
The Texas outfit had observed the 298th at work for a week, then did the job during a second week with the 298th standing by for consultation.
The 298th will soon be "outprocessing," which includes medical screening, resolution of financial matters and making "sure everything is squared away," Grassmyer said.
The company will return to the U.S. at the end of this month, then stay a week or 10 days at Fort Dix, N.J., for more processing, Grassmyer and Brahler said.
Grassmyer spoke to his wife and three daughters, ages 12, 10 and 8, about once a week via Skype through his deployment.
"It was a fast-paced year," he said. "To go from working so hard, then to be cut off and be done - it's a different feeling."
There's nothing scary about it, however, said Brahler, who's been talking almost daily with his wife and sons, 14 and 7, through Skype, e-mail and the occasional old-fashioned letters and cards.
"My wife and me have been together over 24 years," he said. "It's our second deployment together."
Grassmyer said he can't wait to see his family again.
"I'm excited," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.