News You Can Use: Jan. 31, 2005

31, 2005, Volume 3, Issue 5

Index of Articles

Note: Topics below are now bookmarked! Click on the underlined topic
below to link to the pages on that topic.



Disaster Hones Emergency Skills

Stewart Training Tests Skills Of 48th Brigade As It Readies For Iraq



National Guard Unit Says Goodbye



Assessor Pushes Plan To Help Guard, Vets

Life Insurance Benefit Proposed For National Guard

Governor Unveils Benefits For Army, Air National

Oklahoma’s National Guard Encouraged By Proposed
Benefit Package

More Benefits Proposed For Guard, Reserves

Healthcare Access; Vermont Leader Gets Money For
Counseling Services At VA Clinic



For NH’s Charlie Company,
A Calm Day



Families Waiting For Loved Ones’ Safe Return From
War; Living Day By Day Through Worry, Fear

Support Group Keeps Families Together After
Soldiers Depart; Network Can Be Called On To Help With Cars, Birthdays And Hugs



DOD Adds Post-Combat Counseling Session To Diagnose
Long-Term Trauma

Available For Troops Facing Adjustment Issues

Officials Launch ‘Healthy Choices For Life’ Program



D.C. Ball Honors
Sons Of Killed Guardsman

Family Cries For
Latest Hero Soldier



Mom In The Military




National Guard Family Program Online
Communities for families and youth:



TRICARE website for information on health



Employment Information (CEI) Program Registration
for Army and Air National Guard, Air
Force, and Coast Guard Reserve (Note to
those viewing this page in Word or PDF format:
You may have to copy this address and
paste it into your browser’s address window.)



Cumulative roster of all National Guard
and Reserve who are currently on active duty



Child Education Coalition

(MCEC) contains links and information about schooling, distance education,
scholarships, and organizations devoted to the military family is a website that helps military
children with transition and deployment issues.  It has some great features for kids, parents, special needs
families, school educators, and more—even safe chat rooms for kids.



Soldiers Initiative (DS3)

This website
provides information on the new DS3 program. 
Through DS3, the Army provides its most severely disabled Soldiers and
their families with a system of advocacy and follow-up.



Have an article, announcement, or
website that you’d like to share with the National Guard Family Program
Community?  Send your suggestions in
an e-mail to
[email protected].




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Mock Disaster Hones Emergency Skills


Silver City Sun-News

January 26, 2005

By Levi Hill

Area law enforcement and emergency agencies along with the New Mexico National Guard spent the better part
of Tuesday training for a major disaster.

Dave Underwood, training and exercise specialist with the Center for
National Response, said although local agencies were not graded or scored on
their performance, they did a great job. 

Members of the Grant County Special Response Team arrest a suspect and
move in to arrest another Tuesday during a mock training exercise at Fort
Bayard. The exercise was part of a larger disaster training drill that
encompassed numerous local law enforcement, rescue and medical agencies as
well as the New Mexico National Guard.
Sun-News photo by Levi Hill

“It is a credit to them that even though they were in the middle of a
training exercise, they were able to take care of real world situations,”
Underwood said, referring to a small fire and a domestic disturbance call
that interrupted fire crews and sheriff’s deputies in the middle of the
training exercise.

Scott Brooks, another facilitator with the Center for National
Response, said he was very impressed with the involvement and seriousness of
participating agencies.

“We have done these kinds of trainings all over the United States and
the law enforcement here are more involved and really getting into the
training more than any other we have worked with,” Brooks said.

Brooks said he was pleased to see sheriff’s deputies fully playing
along with the training scenarios and utilizing their medical cross-training.

The disaster scenario, which took place at Fort Bayard, involved a
group of citizens being poisoned by an unknown substance that was placed
inside candy.

Deputies arrived on the scene and began assessing the victims and
gathering descriptions of the suspects who handed out the candy. Officers
then trailed the suspects to a house were a standoff took place.

The three make-believe suspects barricaded themselves in the home and
two of them held the third as a hostage at gunpoint while members of the Grant
County Special Response Team tried to talk them out.

Team Commander Mike Jimenez, with the Grant County Sheriff’s
Department, said the training exercise was very positively received by the
members of the team. 

Members of the New Mexico National
64th Civil Support Team gear up to investigate an unknown chemical
lab during a Disaster Training Drill Tuesday at Fort Bayard. Sun-News photo
by Levi Hill

“I thought it was a real solid learning experience, and the rest of
the team had a lot of positive input,” Jimenez said.

He added that the department learned a lot about its limitations and
shortcomings as well as its strengths from the exercise.

“It really stressed for us how limited our communications equipment
is,” Jimenez said. “We took up a lot of air time and now our focus is to get
our own frequency set up to operate in these kinds of situations so we don’t
affect other agencies also actively working with us.”

Once officers were able to reach the suspects and arrest them, they
discovered a mock chemical laboratory inside the home. That is where members
of the New Mexico National Guard
came into play. Major Milo Moody, with the National Guard 64th Civil Support Team, said his group joined in
the training for several reasons.

“We have never done a disaster training in Silver City or Grant County
before and it is good for us to go into cities we don’t know and learn the
limitations and capabilities of the local agencies in the area,” Moody said.
“It is also helpful for us to continue to test our operation guidelines.”

The Civil Support Team, which operates from Rio Rancho and serves all
of New Mexico and west Texas, handled the chemical analysis and clean-up
portion of the exercise. Members of the team dressed in full protective gear
— gas masks and jumpsuits — and practiced cleaning out the chemical lab.

Emergency Manager James Marshall oversaw operations at Gila Regional
Medical Center where those portraying poison victims were transported for
care. Marshall said the drill helped the hospital identified many strengths
and weaknesses as well.

“We definitely got a good opportunity to work the policies and
procedures in the emergency operations center,” Marshall said. “There were
some areas we did exceptionally well at and others we feel need improved, and
we are developing an action plan to address those deficiencies.”

Underwood added that practicing in rural areas like Silver City is
just as important as practicing in bigger cities.

“Americans have this apathy that ‘it can’t happen to me,’ but it can very
easily happen in a place like Grant County,” he said.

Levi Hill can be reached at [email protected]



Fort Stewart Training Tests Skills Of 48th Brigade As It Readies For

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The Macon

28 January 2005

By Gray Beverley

FORT STEWART – Spc. Daniel Bailey has two minutes to assemble the guts
of a M240C machine gun.

His hands have specks of red from scraping against metal parts in
weather so cold that the plastic tube of his water bottle is frozen shut. The
26-year-old welder from Crisp County stands near a tent lined with diagrams,
where he and a teammate had quizzed each other moments ago. Bailey pantomimes
what he’ll need to do when he’s inside the turret of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle,
far away from here, and firing the gun for real.

He’s passed three of the day’s 10 checkpoints, and the assembly test
is next. The seemingly relaxed commander of his Bradley crew, a master gunner
from Valdosta, says the focus is on procedure, not time. But Bailey knows the
sergeant at stage 9 has a stopwatch.

“If you get a no-go or you flunk on the test, you’re letting the
crew down,” Bailey said. “This isn’t exactly an easy piece of
equipment to operate, so everybody’s got to be on their game.”

Bailey and about 4,500 other members of the recently mobilized 48th
Brigade Combat Team are at Fort Stewart this month, refining the skills they
learned during their annual two weeks and 12 weekends with the National Guard. They’re expected to
be deployed to Iraq by summertime.

On this frosty January morning, many soldiers will demonstrate the
basic skills for war. Bailey, who says “I’ve wanted to be in the Army
ever since I could remember anything,” smoothly clicks the gun together
and tests his work with plenty of time to spare.

Staff Sgt. Cliff Boutwell, the leader of Bailey’s three-man crew, pats
him on the back by saying, “He’s a natural.”

Finding their way

In another training area deep in loblolly pines and palmetto, things
don’t seem to be going quite as well for Sgt. Ronnie Mays Jr. of Macon.

“Bear with me, it’s been a while,” a 22-year-old college
student from Hephzibah tells him. “I figured it would be over to the
right somewhere.”

The young man is frustrated that his aim of a compass has them
slightly off course. He offers that his glasses might be to blame.

Mays, 37, and his team only have about 40 minutes to plot their way,
and there’s talk of doubling back. Mays is unfettered by the young man’s
worry, despite acknowledging that getting lost in Iraq can have deadly

“When they get it wrong, they get frustrated,” Mays says
later about some of the younger soldiers in the brigade. “Don’t correct
(their) mistakes right away … because that’s the only way they’ll

The team decides that Spc. Lee Perry, the compass reader, might be
right after all. They trod through the brush in search of the next
checkpoint. Some soldiers carry more than 40 pounds of equipment, and in Iraq
the weight is expected to nearly double.

As Chief Warrant Officer Ralph Lovett of Wrightsville put it earlier:
“It feels like I’ve been carrying a bookcase all day.”

Along with a protective flak jacket, gas mask, first aid kit, canteen
and M16, Mays wears a backpack to store an orange and perhaps a few other

For lunch, he had the beef ravioli version of the military meals that
last for years and are heated with a bag of water.

“I always get hungry walking,” Mays said with the same
comfortable smile used when admitting that his 5-foot 4-inch frame is not
well suited for spotting faraway targets in overgrown woods.

In civilian life, Mays is a parole officer and assistant scoutmaster
for Boy Scouts Troop 551, which is led by his father. The Boy Scouts use
compass and map-reading techniques when camping at Lake Tobesofkee or in
Jones County, he said.

In Iraq, Mays will use those skills as a surveyor to help establish a
tracking system for his Savannah-based field artillery battalion. Mays said
he chose artillery because it allows for a variety of skills.

Before the test of land navigation began, he said, “I’m ready to
go for it and see what we remember.”

In the end, his team accomplished its mission.

“We need it,” Mays said of the training. “These are
just basic soldier skills.”

This month at Fort Stewart was spent refreshing soldiers with skills
they might already know. That includes understanding the rules of engagement,
judging distances, operating a radio, evacuating the injured, dodging and
returning fire, climbing obstacles, trusting a gut feeling and being aware of
the surroundings.

“It’s as close as you can get without having live bullets fired
at you,” said Master Sgt. Milford Thompson of Atlanta, who supervised
much of the training. “It just reinforces the things that are necessary
for you to survive.”

Thompson, 50, said, “in the old days, you learned when you got
over there.” Now, he said, instructors are using the experience of four
rotations in Iraq to accurately prepare troops ahead of time.

“Fight as we train and train as we fight,” said a member of
Mays’ team, Spc. Uli Tauiliili, an Athens-Clarke County sheriff’s deputy.
“We’ve got to get mentally and physically in shape for when we go.”

Getting in shape

Since arriving at Fort Stewart at the start of the New Year, soldiers
have undergone medical checks and gotten their paperwork in order. They have
learned about antiterrorism, warfare and Army policy in classroom settings
that at least one participant called “Death by PowerPoint.”

Also this month, touches of home have remained with the 48th.

A personal cellular telephone can be heard chirping in the woods.
There’s talk of pooling money to supersize a shared television. Nintendo
GameCubes and Sony Playstations abound. The cable guys in the unit have used
their civilian talents to boost nightly entertainment in the barracks.

Maj. Gen. David Poythress, the head of the Georgia National Guard and a Macon native,
said shaking hands with soldiers and checking on their welfare were among his
priorities during a recent visit to Fort Stewart. He said he is pleased with
the brigade’s training plan.

The brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Stewart Rodeheaver of Forsyth,
talked recently of helping soldiers adapt to water that might have a
different sulfur content or to food that doesn’t taste quite like home.

“The fried chicken is different from Mama’s fried chicken,”
he said.

Even so, there are comforts, such as Internet cafes and lounges that
48th soldiers are building from the ground up.

Rodeheaver, who has his eye on tougher times ahead, had just returned
from the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert, where his leadership
team passed an important war operations exam.

“These were guys that cut us no slack,” he said. “We
came in a lot higher than they expected, and we went out a lot higher than I

The full Brigade Combat Team is expected to travel to the center in
late March to conduct a grueling war simulation. Between now and then, the
brigade’s companies are scheduled to merge into groups, focus on collective
rather than individual training and immerse themselves in a war-like

After practicing the procedure for decontaminating his weapon, wiping
the butt of the gun in a down-and-away motion, Sgt. Franz Wolff of Brunswick
told how he knew the training is working.

“It’s going real well,” he said, after removing his gas
mask, “’cause I’m getting back in shape!”




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Utah National Guard Unit Says Goodbye


January 24, 2005

An emotional send-off this morning in Cedar City
for member of the 222nd of the Utah National

Sam Penrod Reporting

A tearful sendoff this morning for about 500
members of the Utah National Guard.
The Triple Deuce is being deployed to the Middle East on a mission expected
to last 18 months.

Standing at attention, members of the 222nd get
their final orders as they prepare to board a plane to active duty. But these
soldiers are not alone, hundreds and hundreds of family members and friends
are there to give them support. With a high school band playing patriotic
music, guardsmen gave hugs and shed tears as they said goodbye to their

Allen Henrie, Two Sons Deployed: “I don’t think
I’ve ever had a harder day. I’m very proud of what they are doing. They know
they are willing to fight for freedom…”

Allen Henrie has two sons who are leaving for
active duty. One of them just became a father on Friday.

Marc Henrie, 222nd Utah National Guard: “We just had our first baby on Friday. We’re
excited for that, but we understand, we have a lot of support from our

Gov. Jon Huntsman: “They believe in freedom,
liberty, democracy. We’re proud as a state to make a contribution to a larger

The 222nd has units in Richfield, Beaver, Cedar
City and St. George. This call-up affects soldiers in almost every town in
southern Utah.

Brandi Dickinson, Husband Deployed: “It’s hard
for us all, but it’s what we signed up to do.”

And while these soldiers know it will be tough
and a sacrifice to be away from home for the next 18 months, soldiers say
they will do what it takes to keep their families and country free.

A second wave of troops will leave tomorrow. The
222nd will spend the next five months training in Mississippi and are
expected to deploy in Iraq by the fourth of July, where they will be
stationed for 12 months.





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Assessor Pushes Plan To Help Guard, Vets


Times Argus

January 25, 2005

BARRE TOWN – Town Assessor Joseph Levesque is pushing a two-pronged
plan that he hopes will help both disabled veterans, as well as the families
of National Guard members who are
called into active duty, pay their property taxes.

For several years Levesque says he has been “beating the
drum” for the town to consider expanding the existing exemption for
disabled veterans or their survivors. State law currently caps that exemption
at $10,000, but specifically provides an avenue for communities to increase
it to $20,000.

“I just think that’s a heck of an idea,” says Levesque, who
plans to formally pitch the proposal to the town’s select board tonight.

“A lot of these veterans are actually older people on very fixed
incomes,” he says, explaining expanding the exemption is one way “…
to help folks who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Folks just like the families of Vermont Army National Guard members now on active duty in the Middle East.
After hearing his share of “horror stories” involving financial
difficulties encountered by guard members’ families, Levesque says he decided
to see if the town was interested in extending the veterans’ exemption to

“It just seemed like they needed a little help and this would be
a good way to show our appreciation,” he says of the tax break that he
would like to see targeted to help the families of town residents on active
war-time duty.

Based on the current $10,000 exemption, a disabled veteran who owns a
home assessed at $100,000 is only taxed on $90,000 of value. Under Levesque’s
proposal that same home would be taxed as if it were worth $80,000 and the
program would be extended to include the families of National Guard members on active duty.

“We’re not talking big bucks,” says Levesque, who says only
32 veterans currently take advantage of the exemption and he knows of only
three Guard members in town who would qualify.

According to Levesque, $320,000 in otherwise taxable property is
exempt the way the law now stands. He says that figure would presumably
double to $640,000 if the exemption were simply increased from $10,000 to

Levesque said the town would have to make up about $5,500 in lost
taxes if the measure is approved.

Although the select board isn’t expected to take any action on either
proposal tonight, Levesque hopes that voters will be given the opportunity to
approve both of them when the town holds its annual elections in May.

According to state law, voters must approve increasing the exemption
from $10,000 to $20,000 for disabled veterans or their survivors, and
Levesque says he believes that benefit can be extended to the families of National Guard members provided it
does not affect the amount of money collected through the statewide education

While it is probably too late for other towns to add similar
initiatives to their Town Meeting Day ballots in March, Levesque says the
Legislature could address the matter by changing the law to increase the
exemption and expand the eligibility.

“I’d like to see that happen,” he says.



Life Insurance Benefit Proposed For National Guard Families

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The Associated Press

January 24, 2005

RALEIGH, N.C. –   The state treasurer’s office wants to
create a life insurance benefit for families of North Carolina National Guardsmen killed in the line
of duty.

   Treasurer Richard Moore proposed the plan Monday in
a letter to Gov. Mike Easley, asking for his support in the 2005 legislative
session, which begins Wednesday.

   Moore’s office manages the $55 million National Guard Pension Fund, and the
department would also administer the life insurance benefit. Moore said he
would work with the state budget office to find existing funds within the
state’s spending plan to pay for the new program.

   A cost assessment is under way, though the
treasurer’s office said in a news release that the cost “is expected to
be minimal.” Moore didn’t specify an amount that would be paid under his

   “The brave men and women of the North Carolina National Guard deserve the full
support our state can provide them as they play a very real role in our
nation’s battle against terrorism,” Moore’s letter states.



Governor Unveils Benefits For Army, Air National Guard

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The Associated Press

January 24, 2005

By Tim Talley, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY –  Oklahoma National
smen would receive tax relief and a $250,000 life insurance policy
under a benefits package unveiled by Gov. Brad Henry Monday.

Flanked by more than a dozen members of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard, Henry said the
benefits are the least a grateful state can do for citizen soldiers who risk
their lives and livelihoods for their state and nation.

“Our Oklahoma Air and National
have made an extraordinary commitment,” Henry said.
“They’ve made tremendous sacrifices. It’s time that we make an
extraordinary commitment back to them.”

The package, labeled “Operation Homefront,” includes the
purchase of a $250,000 life insurance policy for each of the 9,700 Oklahoma
Army and Air National Guard
members. It also includes a 50 percent tax exemption on veterans’ military

“This is the right thing for Oklahomans to do,” the governor
said. “We must take care of our own.”

The measure creates the Military Family Relief Fund to which
Oklahomans could donate all or part of their state income tax refund to help the
families of soldiers who experience financial hardships due to active duty or

“We need to provide security to them and to their families,”
Henry said. He said a task force would coordinate other benefits for Guard

The package’s life insurance and tax relief provisions would cost $3.8
million a year.

 If passed by the House and Senate, Oklahoma would become the
first state in the nation to provide a benefits package for Army and Air National Guard members. The
Legislature convenes on Feb. 7.

A similar package has been proposed in New Mexico, Henry said.

Senate President Pro Tem Cal Hobson, who retired as a colonel from the
Air National Guard, said he will
work to pass the measure.

“It’s a small price tag when compared to the enormous sacrifices
our troops are making every day in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the
world,” said Hobson, D-Lexington.

“We strongly support the brave men and women who sacrifice so
much to serve our country,” House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville,
said. “We’ll work hard in the upcoming session to create the best plan
to show Oklahoma’s commitment to our courageous Guard members and their

 The plan was endorsed by Maj. Gen. Harry Wyatt, adjutant general
of the Oklahoma National Guard.
Wyatt said tax relief on military pensions might provide a new recruiting

“It’s a difficult situation trying to recruit the soldiers that
we need,” Wyatt said. About 1,000 Oklahoma National Guard members are currently deployed overseas and the
Guard is about 350 soldiers short of its recruitment goal, he said.

More than 60 percent of Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard members are veterans of the nation’s global war on
terrorism. At the peak of the war in Iraq, the Oklahoma Guard led the nation
in the percentage of alerted or mobilized troops.

“Oklahoma has not had one soldier or airman who has failed to
answer the call,” Wyatt said.

The benefits package is contained in Senate Bill
821 by Sen. Randy Bass, D-Lawton, chairman of the Senate Veterans and
Military Affairs Committee.



Oklahoma’s National Guard Encouraged By Proposed Benefit Package

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Pryor Daily Times

26 January 2005

Oklahoma’s National Guardsmen
are making their wish lists of what they’d like to see included in a new
benefits package.

Topping the list are health care coverage, better educational
benefits, and earlier retirement benefits. News on 6 anchor Scott Thompson
talked with a National Guardsmen
who’s just back from Afghanistan.

Captain Jason Junkens just got back from a nine-month tour of duty,
training members of the Afghan National
. He’s spent almost half his life with the guard and he’s just 4
years away from retirement. Still, he’ll have to wait until he’s 60 years old
to see any retirement benefits. Junkens realizes he doesn’t see the same
action in the National Guard that
soldiers do serving in active duty, but he answers the same call to duty they
do. “The taxpayers have paid for me to go do this, whether I want to or
not, whether they want me to or not, but it’s a commitment I made to them,
whether I like it or not.”

Captain Jason Junkens’ wife Karen: “They do a lot. They do a lot
for our country. They do a lot more than I think people give them credit for
and I think they should be compensated for that.”

Captain Junkens is home now, but he doesn’t know for how long. Both he
and his wife think it’s just a matter of time before he’s redeployed, this
time, probably to Iraq.



More Benefits Proposed For Guard, Reserves

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Macon Telegraph

Jan. 27, 2005

By Mike Billips

Telegraph Staff Writer

ATLANTA – Weekend warriors called to active duty could get financial
assistance, scholarships for their children and a major tax break from the
state under bills proposed Wednesday in the Legislature.

Part of a package of bills to aid members of the Georgia National
Guard and U.S. military reservists, House Bill 60 would create a trust fund
paid for by voluntary income-tax-return check-offs.

The fund would be used to provide grants to military families who
experience financial hardship when the military member is called to active

A five-member commission would award grants based on need and
available funds.

Another bill would authorize the state to pay Servicemembers’ Group
Life Insurance premiums for the maximum $250,000 coverage for activated Guard
members and reservists. A third would provide college scholarships to the
children of Guard members who are deployed overseas. Another would make an activated
military member’s income free from Georgia income tax after three months of

“These are Georgia’s soldiers, neighbors and volunteers,”
said Rep. DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, introducing the bills in the House of
Representatives. “What can we do to make (hardships caused by
activation) better?”

Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor authored the so-called Helpful Economic Relief
for Our Exceptional Soldiers bills, or HEROES bills, which were introduced in
the Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday. Democrats have garnered some Republican
co-sponsors, and Republican House leaders said they supported them in

“My initial response is, it’s really good stuff,” said Rep.
Larry O’Neal, R-Warner Robins, who chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means
committee. “I can’t think of anything we could do to support members of
the military that isn’t good policy.”

O’Neal and Rep. Jerry Keen, the House majority leader, cautioned that
they would have to read the details of the bill and determine their effect on
the state budget before committing to a wholehearted endorsement.

The tax proposal goes well beyond federal tax incentives to troops.

Current state law exempts military pay earned in combat zones from
income tax, similar to the federal tax-free status of military pay earned in
certain hazardous areas. The proposed bill would make all income of a Guard
member or reservist exempt from state income tax if he or she served on
active duty for 90 days or more in a given year.

Others have also proposed support-our-troops bills.

State Sens. John Wiles, R-Marietta, and John Douglas, R-Covington,
introduced an alternative to Taylor’s scholarship bill that would extend the
$2,000-per-year benefit beyond the Georgia Guard to the U.S. reserves. Though
Guard members and reservists are mostly indistinguishable from one another
and from regular troops once they are called to active duty, the Guard is
partially state-funded, and its units are under the control of the governor
when not activated.




Healthcare Access; Vermont Leader Gets Money For Counseling Services
At VA Clinic

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Law & Health Weekly

February 5, 2005

Service and National Guard members and their families will soon
have access to more counseling services at the Veterans Administration (VA)
Healthcare Clinic in Colchester, Vermont.

 Representative Bernard
Sanders, I-Vermont, announced January 11, 2005, that he had secured $500,000
for the clinic.

 “Not enough attention has
been paid to the problems some National Guard families may be
experiencing today or when our soldiers return home,” Sanders said.

 He said families with
relatives deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan suddenly become de facto
single-parent households. Children have to deal with missing parents. And the
adjustment for soldiers and their families when they return is difficult, he

 The health clinic, in Fort
Ethan Allen, is an outpatient health center for veterans.

 The $500,000 is an earmark
Sanders said he secured as part of a recently approved U.S. Department of Defense
appropriations bill.

 Most of the clinic’s funding
comes from the Veterans Administration, said Gary De Gasta, the director of
the Veterans Administration Medical Center in White River Junction, which
oversees the Colchester clinic.

 The VA funding ensures the
day-to-day operation of the clinic, De Gasta said. A previous $500,000
appropriation in 2003 allowed the clinic to add audiology and optometry

 The new money will support the
clinic’s healthcare offerings and bolster its counseling services to veterans
and Guard members and their families, De Gasta said.

 “It is very good
news,” De Gasta said of the new funding.

 The money will help, but
veterans in general need more assistance recovering from their service to the
country, Sanders said. “Neither the Bush administration nor Congress has
paid enough attention to the issue,” he said.





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For NH’s Charlie Company, A Calm Day


The Union Leader

January 31, 2005

By Bob Lapree, Union Leader Staff
Editor’s Note: Bob LaPree is on special assignment to cover New Hampshire National
troops in Iraq for The Union Leader. We hope to feature his
photography and reports from Camp Anaconda every day for the next two weeks.


BAGHDAD, Iraq — It’s been said that being an embedded reporter is like
seeing the war through a straw — only a very narrow field of view. Yet even
this narrow perspective did reveal the character of some events in central

As election day in Iraq came and went yesterday, members of the 172nd
Mountain Infantry’s Charlie Company were on light duty.

To keep a low profile of American forces during the election, most
combat patrols were called off, leaving most security work to the Iraqi
police and army.

One mission for the unit was to rotate in some soldiers into the
“Sheriff 16” radio post north of Baghdad.

Unit members were on duty monitoring radio traffic to provide a
lifeline to any unit that might need assistance. A series of these posts
around the country ensure radio communication will get through no matter how
remote a unit might be, providing much-needed support for troops in the

While the shift change was made, radio traffic first reported a
friendly fire incident by Iraqi army soldiers with no report of casualties.

Moments later a rapid-fire sequence of reports came in of multiple
suicide bomb attacks at an American base outside Baghdad — no hard
information on damage or injuries.

With the extremely high level of redundant security at the base
observed by Charlie Company members the day before, they speculated the
explosions were likely at the outer perimeter gates.

Later, heading back north to the base at Camp Anaconda, there was
little traffic due to the prohibition of civilians using the roads on
Election Day. It was smooth sailing for several miles until a brief stop at a
small base. While there, the horizon showed a plume of thick black smoke
rising from an apparent bomb. Small arms fire was reported nearby.

Quickly, a convoy of nearly a dozen Iraqi Army vehicles sped by to
respond to the trouble.

An American “Paladin” 155mm mobile artillery piece opened up
for three rounds at a not-too-distant target. No further action was
encountered, though a number of Apache attack helicopters could be seen
circling over an area less than a mile from the main road.

There were several groups of Iraqi children along the highway, many
waved enthusiastically as the convoy passed. A whole family astride their
farm tractor waved and showed wide smiles. Several of the men in Charlie
Company remarked they often get these warm receptions as they pass.

So while there may have been mayhem somewhere else in Iraq, the view
through the straw of Charlie Company was, by their standards, pretty calm.





Back to Table of Contents


Families Waiting For Loved Ones’ Safe Return From War; Living Day By
Day Through Worry, Fear


January 30, 2005 Sunday

By Mike Corpos; American News

For every soldier, sailor, Marine and airman who ships out for a tour
of duty in Iraq, there’s a family left behind to wait and wonder about their
loved one’s return.

Parents, siblings, spouses, children, boyfriends and girlfriends
anxiously await the next phone call or e-mail to know that their loved ones
in Iraq are OK.

The Aberdeen area is no exception to this – hundreds of local men and
women have been to Iraq to serve and defend their nation.

Just as brave as the soldiers who go, are the families who stay.

Heather Bakeberg of Aberdeen and her husband Ryan have been married
two and a half years, but have hardly seen each other and barely lived
together prior to his deployment.

Ryan, 29, is a specialist with the Redfield-based Battery C, 2nd
Battalion, 147th Field Artillery, South Dakota National Guard.

“I worry for him,” Heather, 29, said. “I know he’s very
well-trained, but day to day I don’t know where he’s at.”

Heather said she realized part way into Ryan’s deployment that there’s
nothing she could do about her husband’s absence but take things day by day.

When she first found out Ryan was leaving, Heather said, “I was
scared. My brother was already in Iraq at the time.”

“From having (brother) Joey over there, I kind of knew what to
expect – it was helpful,” Heather said. “But it’s very different
having a sibling instead of a husband over there.”

Heather’s brother, Joey Aldentaler, is with the 740th Transportation
Company out of Milbank.

Ryan served in the Marine Corps before joining the Guard, so Heather
is confident he knows what he’s doing in Iraq.

He’s been in the military since he was 18, Heather noted.

“Knowing what Joey had gone through kind of prepared me and my
family,” Heather said.

She said it’s a different kind of worry she has for Ryan versus her
younger brother.

“He’s my baby brother – I was kind of panicked for him,” she
said, noting that her big sister instincts were a strong part of that.

“I was more worried for Joey,” she added. “Not that I’m
not worried for Ryan, but I knew he knew what he was doing.”

That, Heather said, was a load off her shoulders, knowing that Ryan’s
10-plus years of military experience had prepared him for his deployment.

The 400-member 2nd Battalion, 147th Field Artillery, has been in Iraq
for more than a year now, and could be home in March, but no firm date has
been set.

“I’m very proud of Ryan,” Heather said. “But I’m ready
for him to come home.”

Quick call to service: Some of the younger members of Aberdeen’s
Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 147th Field Artillery, barely had any time to recover
from basic training before they were told they’d be leaving for Iraq.

Such was the case for Spcs. Brandon Wolf and Matthew Hughes.

Both graduates of Aberdeen Central High School, they signed up for the
Guard and no sooner was their training done than they received the call.

“We knew it was a possibility when he signed up,” said Don
Wolf of Aberdeen, Brandon Wolf’s father.

Brandon, 20, had graduated from basic training in August 2003 and
almost immediately Battery B was put on alert.

“It was devastating in a way – certainly a shock,” Wolf said
of the news his son would be sent to Iraq.

Wolf said that on the day Brandon completed his advanced training he
was notified that the unit would be leaving for pre-deployment training at
Fort Sill, Okla.

“It was kind of a fast deal for him,” Wolf said. “He
was only home for a few days. He’s had his two weeks leave since then.”

Wolf noted it was not something he and his family were ready for. His
wife Cindy has been active in the family support group for Battery B, and his
two younger sons, ages 17 and 15, look up to their brother even more so now,
he said.

“It’s tough, but we take it day by day,” Wolf said.
“Some days it’s really tough, but we have each other.”

Wolf said the family has become good friends with the other Guard
families through the support group, so some good has come out of their loved
one’s absence.

The family is counting the days until they see Brandon safe at home

In the meantime, they all look forward to the next time they talk to

“At some points, it’s weeks in between, and sometimes it’s twice
a week,” Wolf said about his family’s contact with Brandon.
“Usually, it’s once a week he’ll e-mail or call us.”

The family is proud of Brandon, Don Wolf said, choking back tears.

“He wanted to do this. He and a couple of buddies got the idea
they wanted to go do that,” Wolf said, adding that the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks were a major deciding factor for Brandon in wanting to

“Now, he has a chance to make a difference,” Wolf said.
“It’s been good for him.”

Emotional roller coaster: When the order came to ship out for Fort
Sill, the news was scary for Janet Hughes, mother of Spc. Matthew Hughes.

“It was scary. I had no clue where he was, or what he was
doing,” she said. “I was most worried about the unknown.”

The past year has been a roller coaster for Hughes, as her son, 20,
has moved back and forth within Iraq.

“They started out farther north, between Najaf and
Fallujah,” Hughes said. “About 20 guys volunteered to go to Najaf
to help with security, and Matt volunteered.”

Najaf is the former stronghold of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr, and was the site of some intense fighting last year.

“Matt was there a month and a half,” Janet said. “There
were a lot of sleepless nights.”

There have been a number of times when Matt’s unit has been shot at,
Hughes said.

“Even when I’m on the phone with him, you can hear gunfire in the
background,” she said. “They’re safe now. They’ve been at a camp
out in the desert since August.”

Hughes said she’s been more comfortable lately, but there’s always a

“I’m just glad he’s had access to the Internet and phones, so
we’re able to keep in contact,” Hughes said, adding that she talks to
Matt once or twice a week.

Matt signed up for the Guard during his junior year at Central High
School, his mother said.

“He graduated (from basic training) and he was activated,”
Hughes said. “He wasn’t here for a long time.”

Matt was home in August for his two weeks of leave, but when he first
left, Janet said she didn’t quite know how to adjust.

“It’s not like sending your kid off to college,” she said.
“You never thought you’d be sending a child off to war. He’s so

Matt finished his specialist training in November 2003, and the
battery was activated the next month.

Although the 2nd Battalion’s March 1 return date is tentative, Janet
Hughes said it’s just good to have some light at the end of the tunnel.

“Matt tells me to quit worrying,” she said.

Janet said she’d stop worrying when she knows Matt is back at Fort
Sill, and ready to come home.

Before that, she said it’s a good six-hour drive across the desert to
the nearest base. And then 2nd Battalion will make the trip to Kuwait, which
is a bit safer, and finally the outfit will be flown to Oklahoma.

Hoping for safe return: For the parents of Capt. Mark Meyer, a
Brookings resident, the thought of their oldest son being in war-torn Iraq is
a scary one.

Mark serves with the South Dakota National Guard’s Company B,
153rd Engineer Battalion out of Madison.

Don and Alayne Meyer of Aberdeen said the initial news that Mark, a
16-year Guard veteran, would be headed to the Middle East was

“At first it was very scary,” said Alayne. “It still is
– with all those terrorists, you never know when you’re safe.”

“We learned that with the mess-hall bombing,” Don added
about a December attack in which a suicide bomber, apparently dressed as an
Iraqi guard entered a mess tent and exploded, killing 22 people including 14
American troops.

The Meyers are proud of their son, who was awarded a Bronze Star last
year for his service in Iraq.

“We’re proud of him as a son, and hopefully he’ll return safely
from his tour of duty,” Don said.

Mark has been in Iraq for close to a year, and he may be home within
the next few months.

The battalion was originally told its tour would be one year from the
time it set foot in Iraq, which would put their return as sometime in
mid-February. But the Army has not said for sure when the unit is coming

“Personally, it’s not a problem for our son to be a part of the
Guard,” Don said. “His wife was also in the Guard for eight or nine
years. Her father was also a Guard member.”

“He always puts his men first,” added Alayne.

The Meyers said their son is a selfless person, and has repeatedly
said the 100 or so men under his command deserved the Bronze Star far more
than he did.

“Mark was disappointed when he didn’t get to go to Desert Storm
in 1991,” Don said.

“He’s very committed,” said Alayne. “He’s never shirked
his duty.”

(605) 622-2310 or 1-800-925-4100 ext. 310; [email protected]

Reporter Mike Corpos;


Support Group Keeps Families Together After Soldiers Depart; Network
Can Be Called On To Help With Cars, Birthdays And Hugs

Back to Table of Contents

Austin American-Statesman (Texas)

January 30, 2005 Sunday

By Suzannah Gonzales

When Andrew and Janie Gotts go to Afghanistan with the Texas Army National
they’ll leave behind their two teenage sons. But the couple said a
support network made up of their unit’s spouses, other family members and
friends helps put their minds at ease.

The boys “know it’s there for them,” Andrew Gotts said. At a
lunchtime barbecue Saturday at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8787, network
members made sure other soldiers’ families knew that, too. 

Nearly 100 soldiers of the Austin-based 111th Area Support Group,
their families and friends gathered in a room filled with red, white and blue
balloons to get to know one another and say goodbye before the unit

Today, the soldiers will join about 50 others from their Guard unit at
Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio for a month of training. Then the unit will
go to Afghanistan, where for about a year members will oversee five bases the
way a city manager would: running dining facilities, security, military
vehicles and other tasks, according to the group commander, Col. Joyce

While the soldiers are focused on their mission, “the day-to-day
lives of the families are going to go on,” said Capt. Eric Johnson, a company
commander. If a problem comes up, from a car breaking down to someone needing
a shoulder to cry on, Johnson said, the families can call on the support
network. Johnson’s wife, Jacinda, coordinates the 111th Area Support Group
Family Readiness Group. Being involved, she said, “makes the deployment
go by faster. . . . It makes me feel good.”

In addition to providing support to soldiers’ families, the readiness
group raises money for equipment not issued by the government, such as
coolant pads for helmets, wicking shirts to help keep soldiers cool in the
heat and extra socks. In addition, the group will send the soldiers coloring
books for an orphanage the unit plans to adopt in Afghanistan, Eric Johnson

Members of the Grant African Methodist Episcopal Worship Center in
Austin will send the unit care packages every month and pray for the soldiers
every day at noon, said church member Linda Connor. They also will be in
contact with the soldiers’ spouses, children and parents and will keep up
with children’s birthdays. 

Every Guard unit has a support group, but the Gottses said they’ve
never experienced anything like this one. “I’ve never seen any unit like
this,” Andrew Gotts said, “with this kind of support.”   

[email protected]; 445-3658




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DOD Adds Post-Combat Counseling Session To Diagnose Long-Term Trauma


European Stars and Stripes

January 26, 2005

By Leo Shane III, Stars and

WASHINGTON — Troops returning from combat will undergo two mental
health assessments — one right away, one three to five months later — to make
sure they aren’t suffering long-term trauma, Department of Defense officials
announced this week.

Servicemembers are already required to talk to counselors immediately
before and after their deployment. But Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr.,
assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said often problems like
post-traumatic stress disorder take weeks or months to manifest themselves.

“There is a minority percentage who have these issues, and we’ve also
learned there is a concern or stigma about coming in for this,” he said. “One
of the ways we think we can get at that is to require this to everybody.

“It’s really not meant to be a probing, intrusive kind of thing. It’s
meant to be a ‘How are you doing? How is your family doing? If you’re having
problems, we want to help.’”

Winkenwerder said having counselors re-examine everyone months after
their return will identify more problems, which in turn will allow them to
help more troops. Officials will also redesign the current pre- and
postcombat interviews to include a stronger mental health focus.

“Many times just talking helps people deal with these issues,” he
said. “Some people might be having symptoms and thinking, ‘Am I crazy?’ and
they need to be told, ‘No, you’re having a psychological reaction to this
stressful event.’”


The new program will begin sometime this spring. Winkenwerder said no
cost estimates have been calculated for that redesign or the extra

Meanwhile, officials are wrestling with how to ensure everyone gets
the new assessments, particularly Individual Ready Reservists, who don’t
belong a specific unit once they’re demobilized, said Col. Thomas Burke, one
of the Pentagon’s top psychiatrists and the director of mental health policy
for the Defense Department.

Also problematic, he said, are active-duty troops who move to new
units or leave the Army after they return from the combat zone.

The services have already been augmenting active-duty mental health
providers with contractors, but officials know more help will likely be
needed — both in the military clinics as well as at Veterans Administration
hospitals, said Burke.


“Do we have enough doctors and facilities for what will be needed five
years from now? I suspect not.”

Burke said, however, it’s too early to tell if the military medical
system will be overloaded without a significant increase in providers.

While officials are paying close attention to the trends, he added,
“we don’t know how long the war will last or how many troops will be

For now, Burke said, “we have enough psychiatrists, but they are all
very busy.”

Winkenwerder said for now, troops who have already returned from
deployment will not be included in the extra interviews. Family members also
will not be included in the assessments.

But the department does plan to create hot lines for troops or family
members to call for assistance and counseling, anonymously if they prefer.

Winkenwerder said the department estimates between 8 and 15 percent of
combat veterans suffer some lasting mental health trauma from their
experience. Information from the interviews will be kept in a confidential
database, so officials can use what they learn to help other veterans in the

Department officials also announced this week a $13 million initiative
to decrease smoking, binge drinking and obesity among servicemembers. The
campaign will include online education programs and was launched after a 2002
study showed increases in those three areas among all of the services.

Stripes reporter Jon Anderson contributed to this report from the



Help Available For Troops Facing Adjustment Issues

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by Gerry J. Gilmore

American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON (AFPN) — The Defense Department’s senior
medical adviser said that troops redeployed from combat zones should suffer
no stigma for seeking help for emotional problems.

 Some troops who have returned from duty tours in
Afghanistan or Iraq are experiencing symptoms associated with post-traumatic
stress disorder, said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of
defense for health affairs.

 Dr. Winkenwerder said Jan. 24 that DOD is expanding
its post-deployment health assessment program, which will soon require all
servicemembers — active and reserve components — to fill out a health
questionnaire and visit a care provider within three to six months after
redeployment. More than 600,000 pre- and post-deployment health assessments
have already been completed, he said.

 He said medical officials learned that
servicemembers were exhibiting symptoms such as chronic nervousness, anger or
depression months after they had returned to their home bases from deployments
to combat theaters.

 “If you’ve been in a very stressful
environment, to have symptoms like that is normal — you’re not crazy,”
Dr. Winkenwerder said.

 Yet, if symptoms are not identified and dealt with
early on, he said more significant problems could develop.

 “(Some) people could turn to alcohol or other
things to try to drive away some of the uncomfortable feelings,” Dr,
Winkenwerder said.

 Servicemembers can be successfully treated with the
proper support from the unit with medical care and family-services assistance
as needed, Dr. Winkenwerder said.

 Troops who believe they may be having trouble
adjusting after returning from combat-zone duty should not be afraid of being
stigmatized when they seek help, he said.

 “If you’ve got some emotional things going on
or psychological things going on, the best thing to do is to reach out and
get some help,” he said.



Officials Launch ‘Healthy Choices For Life’ Program

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by Gerry J. Gilmore

American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON (AFPN) — Defense Department officials
are launching a new preventive health-care program called “Healthy
Choices for Life,” the department’s senior medical adviser said here
Jan. 26.


The purpose of the Tricare-managed program is “to put
information in the hands of individual servicemembers and family members so
that they can change their behavior,” said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr.,
the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.


The program will focus on persuading people to quit
smoking, moderate drinking habits, exercise and lose weight, he said.


Adopting more moderate health habits enables people
“to avoid bad health outcomes and bad health problems” like lung
cancer, emphysema, liver and brain damage, diabetes, heart attacks and
strokes, Dr. Winkenwerder said.

 He said about $13 million has been budgeted to fund
pilot programs over the next few years. Some features of the pilot projects
under consideration include toll-free smoking and drinking cessation phone
lines and dedicated Web sites touting healthier lifestyles, he said.

 Dr. Winkenwerder said the program is envisioned as a
DOD-wide and -managed endeavor rather than separate programs run by each
armed service.

 For more information about the program, visit





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D.C. Ball Honors Sons Of Killed Guardsman


Rocky Mount Telegram

January 22, 2005

By Natalie Jordan

The war in Iraq has left many families without their loved ones. For
two Rocky Mount boys, Thursday was a time to remember theirs. Christopher
Cash Jr., 14, and Mathew Cash, 12, were invited as special guests to the
Heroes Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball on Thursday in the Andrew Mellon
Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

“Not a lot of people realize that Cash’s only two children live
here in Rocky Mount with me,” said Samantha Cheatham, Capt. Chris Cash’s
ex-wife and mother of the two boys. “They knew he was married, but that
was it. A lot of support that has been shown has bypassed the children
because they were not aware of the children. The local community recognizes
them and have been supportive.

“But this is one of the few things done that the children have
been able to participate in that is positive since the death of their father.
They’ve had a hard time, and it’s hard as a parent to watch your children go
through that type of pain.”

The ball sponsored by Citizens Helping Heroes and the Veterans
Foundation — nonprofit organizations providing support to military families —
was held to honor soldiers wounded or killed in battle and their families.
Cash, 36, of the N.C. Army National
, died June 24 in the line of duty in Iraq.

“It was an inaugural ball to celebrate democracy and honor for
our wounded and widows of fallen soldiers,” said Chris Thompson, founder
of Citizens Helping Heroes based in Washington, D.C. “Their mother
(Samantha) had emailed me 10 days before the ball, after seeing our Web site.
She told me they were having a really hard time dealing with the loss of
their father, so I suggested the inaugural ball as well as our spring event.
And just like those from Walter Reed Medical Center coming to attend our ball
were excited, they were excited about coming to Washington.”

Cheatham said she and her two sons drove to Washington on Thursday
morning, and by 9 p.m. they were mingling with a star-studded crowd. The
ball, which was emceed by Geraldo Rivera, had a lineup of notable musicians
such as Michael Bolton, Nile Rodgers and Chic, comedian Steve Bridges and Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. She said her sons were the only children there.

“The ball had stars everywhere,” Christopher Cash Jr. said,
“on the ceiling and walls, and everything was blue, red and white. And
on the stage was a gigantic red, white and blue star. And there were blue and
white lights shining from the ceiling. It was awesome.”

Christopher said he was kind of apprehensive at first about the trip,
but upon getting there, he said he became excited.

“We got to meet all the people there, and we got to talk to a lot
of the wounded soldiers, which was pretty cool,” he said. “I was
really surprised. The ball was interesting, but it was weird because we
didn’t have anyone else to talk to since we were the only kids there. But
everyone wanted to talk to us. One of the higher-up generals in the military
and one of the wounded soldiers asked what happened to my father. It was OK
actually to talk about it. I mean, it gets a little easier with time.

“I hope I didn’t say or do anything I didn’t mean to.”

Although the family’s trip was cut short by the weather, Matthew Cash
said he was still happy they got the chance to go.

“I had fun,” he said. “We danced, and met a whole lot
of people. It’s cold up here, and I’m kind of sad that we can’t see any of the
monuments. But I was surprised to be invited to go.”

Thompson said he was happy he could provide the opportunity to the
boys and their mother.

“The kids’ mother said this was the first nice thing done since
losing their father last June, which made the ball worthwhile for me,”
Thompson said. “Those kids are wonderful. On a national level, they
haven’t got a lot of recognition, and it’s just like with the wounded. We
want them to know that we do recognize them and we do care for them, and what
they’ve done for our country will not go unacknowledged. They are brave men.

“But those boys were true gentlemen, and it was really special to
have them there.”



Family Cries For Latest Hero Soldier

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New York Daily News

January 28th, 2005

By Celeste Katz

PFC. Francis Obaji’s long journey is almost over.

It began in his boyhood home of Nigeria and took him to New York,
where the horrors he witnessed on 9/11 drove him to join the Army and go to

At age 21, he met his death there.

Yesterday, Obaji was mourned amid wails of anguish at a Queens church.

And today, his body will be buried among his fallen comrades at
Arlington National Cemetery.

The hundreds who came to bid farewell to Obaji at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal
Church in Hollis remembered his trademark smile, his belief in the importance
of peace, and the way he deferred his dream of becoming a doctor to serve
with the famed Fighting 69th Infantry Regiment of the Army National Guard.

“He wanted to give back to the country he so loved,” said
his uncle, Kingsley Obaji.

Francis Obaji came to the U.S. with his family in 1994. He was a track
star at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn and went on to study
microbiology at the College of Staten Island. He applied for U.S. citizenship
three years ago.

Last Sunday, he died in Baghdad.

Obaji’s parents said military officials told them their son’s vehicle
came under attack, burst into flames and tumbled into a ditch.

Dressed in black, mourners knelt and wept at the open casket before
the service, crossing themselves as they gazed at the body of the young man
in the crisp Army uniform.

Obaji’s grieving parents, Cyril and Violet Obaji, bowed their heads in
prayer at the front of the church as the martial strains of “The Battle
Hymn of the Republic” cut through a sweet-smelling haze of incense.

Another of the soldier’s uncles, Sam Obaji, who traveled from Nigeria
for the funeral, reminded the mourners that his nephew’s middle name,
Chinomso, means “God is with us.”

“Our God is always with us, no matter what happens,” he

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) presented the Obaji family with a flag
once flown over the U.S. Capitol, and political and church leaders, including
the Rev. Orris Walker Jr., bishop of Long Island, offered words of faith and

“I want you to know your son is a hero, because freedom is not
free,” Meeks told the soldier’s parents.

Cries swelled again as members of the Fighting 69th carried Obaji’s
flag-draped coffin out into the unforgiving cold. The mourners raised their
hands in valediction.

“Goodbye, Francis!” they called through their tears.
“You will never be forgotten!”




Back to Table of Contents


Mom In The Military


The Union Leader

24 January 2005

By Lorna Colquhoun

LANCASTER IN THE quiet moments of a busy life making a home and
raising a young family, Valerie Johnson reflected on all that was going
right. But at 29, there was that one elusive thought that kept coming to
mind. It was not so much a dream, but a calling and she had to decide when
the time was right to answer it.

“It was more of a feeling I’d had since high school,” said Johnson, an
Airman 1st Class with the New Hampshire Air National Guard. “Ever since high school — my whole life, really —
I have admired men and women who serve in the armed forces. I thought about
doing this when I was 19, but the time wasn’t right.”

Valerie and Eric Johnson and their children Parker and Jacqueline The
right time came nearly a year ago, when Johnson, the mother of a 3-year-old
son and 2-year-old daughter and the wife of a state trooper, decided her time
was now. It was March 1 last year, when, after researching the branches of
military online, that she made a call to the Air National Guard recruiting office in Newington. That date was just
two months after hundreds of citizen soldiers from across the North Country
left to serve in Iraq.

While certainly not the first young mother to sign up, Master Sgt.
Michael Daggett said Johnson’s enlistment was “unusual,” because she had no
military background.

“It’s unusual because of the training involved and what made her
unique is that she came in and had never been in the military,” he said. “We
spent many, many hours talking and exchanging e-mails because it was truly
important to make sure that this was a good fit. But you could tell she was
very determined — that this had been a lifelong goal.”

Newington is about a three-hour drive from Lancaster and that would
have been plenty of time for her to think twice or more about going forward.

But turning around and heading home was not an option.

“Not at all,” she said. “I was so excited, it really confirmed all the
feelings I had had.”

In the beginning, though, her excitement was not exactly shared, as
some wondered how she could leave her children for the training and the
commitment of the National Guard.

“When Valerie first told me she was signing up, I didn’t want to
believe it because so many Guards were going to Iraq,” said her mother, Jill
Brooks, of Dalton. “I actually tried to ignore it, but not talking about it
didn’t change anything. And it hurt her. She’s my youngest child, and no one
in my family had been in the service in my memory, so a lot of my concern was
the unknown.”

Johnson was sworn into the ANG in a small ceremony on April 30 and got
the date she would report for basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio,

The end of September bore down fast.

“There was a lot of preparation in getting ready to leave,” she said.

Not only was it preparing for more than six weeks of training, but
preparing to leave her family. She made a half-hour video for her two
children, Parker and Jacqueline, of their favorite stories, like Goodnight
Moon and Dora the Explorer.

“I made six dishes that I froze, so that once a week while I was gone,
they would have some home cooking,” she said. “I tried to do as much as I
could to get them ready, so that it would be easy.”

As she prepared to leave, Johnson and her husband, Eric, sold their
house and moved in with Brooks for a while, until their new one was ready.
The timing was such that the family was with Brooks while Valerie was in
basic training.

“One of my biggest concerns was that she would have to leave Parker
and Jackie for basic training, and that they may somehow suffer for it,”
Brooks said. “A good friend told me that as long as they were with people who
loved them, they’d be just fine, and they were.”

The day before her flight out of Boston, the Johnsons went to the city
for their last night together. In the morning, to avoid an emotional
good-bye, Valerie bade farewell to them at the hotel and hopped a shuttle for
the airport.

“It was the hardest thing I had ever done,” she said. “It was very,
very emotional.”

At Lackland, Johnson was the oldest recruit in the flight and she
became the dorm chief.

“People would ask me what I was doing there,” she said. “There really
was a mixed reaction. Some people said that it was awesome.”

They wondered, as some wondered back home, how she could leave her
children. “Just because I joined doesn’t mean I love them less,” she said.
“It means I love them more.”

The days were busy. “There wasn’t a lot of time to miss everyone, but
at night, I laid down and cried a bit — I missed my husband and my kids. I
told myself to just get used to it and focused on why I was here.”

When she graduated from basic training on Oct. 30, her husband,
children and mother traveled to the base to see it.

“It was such a relief — it was so exciting to see them — it was so
wonderful,” she said.

It was wonderful for those who missed her, too. “When Eric, the kids
and I flew down to Texas for her graduation, and finally got to see her after
six weeks, it was so exciting,” Brooks said. “There’s no way a loved one
couldn’t feel pride under the circumstances, but it went deeper. I saw my
daughter as a woman who made her own decision, and for her and her husband,
it was the right one. I gained a new respect for Valerie, and was so
impressed with her commitment — wanting to serve her country when they needed

It’s that kind of family support that helped Johnson follow her goal,
Daggett said.

“She really had amazing support,” he said.

Nearly a year after making her decision, Johnson has settled into the
routine of raising her family, with a weekend of training every month. She’ll
head out later this year for training in vehicle operations in Missouri.

“I had known she wanted to do this from our first date,” said Eric
Johnson, a state trooper who also serves with the U.S. Coast Guard. “She told
me she had a regret that she never did it and I remember thinking that it was
too bad to have a regret.”



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