News You Can Use: Feb. 28, 2005

   February 28, 2005, Volume 3, Issue 9

Index of

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



Soldiers Return From Peacekeeping in Kosovo; Indiana
and Ohio Guard Members Come Full Circle after 9-Month Duty; Eight Other Groups
Will Be Back Soon

Charlie Co. Welcomed Home



Mass. Proposes Boosting National Guard Death

Tuition Assistance Program Awaits Approval;
National Guard and Reserve Members Could Receive Free Tuition at Oregon
University System Schools

Reservists, Enlistees May Qualify for Deferral
of Back Taxes

GI Mortgage Updates Open Doors for Buyers



Soldiers and Families Turn To the Internet for
Peace of Mind

Nat’l Guard Families Lean On Each Other



Trauma of Iraq War Haunting Thousands
Returning Home; A New Generation of Vets Is Seeking Help for Stress Disorder



Jobs Don’t Always Wait For Guards, Reservists; Citizen Soldiers Find
Duty in Iraq Can Dent Families’ Finances

Family Readiness Group There “Every Step of the Way”

Duty Calls on the Homefront – Helping Troops Who Want To Phone Home



National Guard Family Program Online Communities for
families and youth:



TRICARE website for information on health benefits



Civilian Employment Information (CEI) Program
for Army and Air National Guard, Air Force, and Coast Guard
(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



Military 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.



Disabled 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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Return From Peacekeeping In Kosovo; Indiana and Ohio Guard Members Come Full
Circle After 9-Month Duty; Eight Other Groups Will Be Back Soon

February 24, 2005

By Kevin O’Neal

Barbara Walls spent hours at the international arrivals
terminal of Indianapolis International Airport on Wednesday, waiting for her
Indiana National Guard husband to come home.

“We’re just out here hoping to get a quick
hug,” the Indianapolis resident said as she waited outside the terminal
for Staff Sgt. Michael Walls. He was one of nearly 250 soldiers returning
from Kosovo on a cold Wednesday night after nine months of peacekeeping duty
— the first of nine groups of Guard members returning to Indiana through

When the first soldiers started coming out of the
terminal around 9 p.m., Walls watched each one closely. Finally, as the last
soldiers left, there was her husband — toting a box of records toward the

For the next two weeks, there will be several more
arrivals as Indiana Guard members return from Europe. Most Guard members have
returned from duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina; about 200 are left to come home. An
additional 1,600 have yet to return from Kosovo, a province of Serbia, said
Col. Brian Copes, chief of staff of the 38th Infantry Division, noting:
“Kosovo is a dangerous environment, more dangerous than Bosnia.”

About 200 of the soldiers who arrived Wednesday are
members of the Ohio National Guard, coming from that state and
surrounding areas.

Sgt. Danny Flowers, a truck driver from Florence, Ky.,
took advantage of the arrival to step outside the terminal and smoke a
cigarette — his first since the airplane left Europe hours earlier.

Flowers served in the Army during Operation Desert
Storm, left the military, then joined the Ohio Guard.

“I couldn’t stay away,” he said. “I
missed it.”

The Ohio-area soldiers came in with the Indiana Guard
members because all had been mobilized through Camp Atterbury in Johnson
County and, according to military protocol, must be demobilized at the same
location. Around 27 of the soldiers who returned Wednesday are members of the
Indiana Guard.

Capt. Marquette Rubin, of Indianapolis, who was a
civilian affairs planner in Kosovo, said all he wanted to do at home was to
“sit on my couch and stare. I’ve been that busy.”

Wednesday night didn’t feature the sort of emotional
reunions of previous returns. Most soldiers planned to reunite with their
families at home after finishing paperwork at Atterbury.

And while families were not encouraged to show up, a few
braved the cold anyway.

“We’ve been out here for four hours,” said
Marty Waller, of Indianapolis, father of Spc. 4 Nicole Killip. “I think
they ought to let everyone out here to show the troops they’re



Charlie Co.
Welcomed Home

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Daily Press

February 23 2005

By Mathew Paust

WEST POINT — Roses, flags, yellow ribbons, balloons,
signs, screaming loved ones and an escort of school children and 20 emergency
vehicles greeted the 120 soldiers in Charlie Company as they arrived home
today after spending more than a year in Iraq.

“You live all year with a hole, and now the hole’s
not there anymore,” said Jeannette Kaulfers with a wistful sigh as she
waited outside the Virginia Army National Guard armory in West Point,
where Co. C, 276th Engineering Battalion, Virginia Army National Guard,
makes its headquarters.

Kaulfers’ son, Capt. David Kaulfers, is Charlie
Company’s commander.

Several hundred other friends and relatives of the
returning troopers who gathered at the armory in the pleasant, midday sun
broke into cheers as the convoy of police cars, ambulances, fire trucks and
buses rounded a curve on Main Street and came into view.

Three commercial buses, painted red, white and blue,
carried the troopers. Next in line were two yellow school buses filled with
family members and local children. The convoy eased past the screaming crowd
and headed to West Point Elementary School, several blocks away. There, some
of the troopers introduced themselves to schoolchildren who had written
letters to them during their harrowing service in Iraq.

In a quieter moment, before the buses arrived, relatives
described the anxiety they had felt in December when the 276th Battalion’s
headquarters mess tent was blown up in Mosul. Thirteen soldiers and nine
civilians were killed and many people were wounded in the bombing. For many
relatives, the soldiers’ fate was not known for days.

“I was sitting in the den watching TV when they
threw the bomb,” said Doris Bundy, of Richmond, whose son, Ryland Bundy
Jr., is in Charlie Co. “They said it was the 276th, and I knew that was
his unit.

“We didn’t know for two days if he was all right.
Then he called us and said he wasn’t there when it happened. He said they
unplug the phones when something like that happens,” she said.

Some of the relatives couldn’t wait for the West Point
homecoming, and met their soldier kin when they arrived at Ft. Dix, N.J., for
a couple weeks of processing before coming home. Among them were the wife and
four children of Staff Sgt. Tom Cockrell.

A photo of Cockrell being swarmed by his children was
published two weeks ago on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
That photo inspired Buttons Boggs, a local artist and friend of the Cockrell
family, to re-create the scene in paint on a poster that was placed at the
armory’s front entrance. Cockrell’s kids were at the armory, as well, to
re-create the scene in the flesh.

Nathan Almquist’s 4-year-old niece, Sarah Blake, leaped
into her uncle’s arms, hugged him around the neck, and refused to let go. “She’s
never gonna leave him,” said Almquist’s mother, Sue Newsom, of

Newsom didn’t hear from her son after the mess hall
blast either, but she knew he was OK. Photos of him were appearing on TV and
on the front pages of newspapers all over the country. Almquist, a corporal,
was shown grieving over a buddy, whose body lay at his feet, covered by a

“It’s weird to be home,” said Almquist, 23,
after greeting his mom, a former baseball coach and other friends. “All
the people, the fast pace. It was a daily routine. Now there’s no routine,”
he said.

After a leave of 90 days, he plans to get back into
active military service – regular Army or maybe the Coast Guard. “They
have drug interdictions. That’s what I want, combat activity,” he said.

His former ambition to be a professional baseball
player, and his former job as a tree surgeon, no longer have the appeal they
once did.

“Right now the military is what I’m good at,”
he said.

Another tour of Iraq, however, is not on the Gloucester
High School grad’s agenda.

“I don’t want to go back to Iraq,” he said,
“I’ve left all the bad things behind there.”

Afghanistan, maybe — that would be a new experience, he
said. He thought a moment, then added, “All I want to do right now is





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Proposes Boosting National Guard Death Payout



23 February 2005
BOSTON (Reuters) – Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney proposed on Monday boosting
death benefits for families of state National Guard killed in the line
of duty to $100,000 from $5,000.

unveiled the bill, which would make the payments retroactive to October 2001
to cover state National Guard members killed in Afghanistan, during a
visit to a National Guard armory.

legislation underscores how much we value (members of the state National
) and how much we want, on this President’s Day, to send a signal
that we remember, that we care, and that we too will do our duty,”
Romney said.

Massachusetts proposal echoes a recent Bush administration plan to increase
federal death benefits for U.S. forces. That proposal would, among other
things, raise the payment made to survivors of soldiers killed in combat to
$100,000 from around $12,000.

If both the
Romney and Bush plans are passed, families of Massachusetts National Guardsmen
killed in action could receive a death benefit of up to $200,000 each, a
spokesman for Romney said.

don’t expect opposition to a proposal like this … It is a small gesture of
appreciation to our citizen soldiers,” he added. Massachusetts has sent
almost 4,000 National Guard members overseas since Sept. 2001.

proposal would cost nearly $1 million a year. Under the plan, the state would
also pay the up to $195 annual premium for a federal life insurance policy
offered through Soldier’s Group Life Insurance.

It would
also make a $1,500 annual annuity for surviving spouses permanent and extend
other benefits to veterans and their families.



Assistance Program Awaits Approval; National Guard And Reserve Members Could
Receive Free Tuition At Oregon University System Schools

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Daily Emerald

February 25, 2005

By Adam Cherry

Oregon National Guard and Reserve members
returning from areas of active hostility may soon have an opportunity for
free higher education at the Oregon University System school of their choice.

OUS announced Tuesday the creation of the Voyager
Tuition Assistance program, a fee remission that will waive tuition dollars
that National Guard and Reserve members are required to pay.

Diane Saunders, director of communications for OUS,
said the system expects the State Board of Higher Education to approve the
program March 4.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski and OUS Acting Chancellor George
Pernsteiner commented on the tuition remission in a press release.

“Education is one of the primary reasons that
many of Oregon’s soldiers enter military service,” Kulongoski said.
“The Voyager Program is an example of how the Oregon University System
can both recognize the service of Oregon’s National Guard members and
reservists and help them access a post-secondary education so they can
contribute to our communities once they return home.”

“Returning to the United States after active
engagement in a conflict area can be a difficult transition at times,”
Pernsteiner said. “Our hope is that this scholarship aid will provide
Guard and Reserve members with the financial help they need to begin or to
complete their undergraduate degree without the worry of how they or their
families will pay for it.”

If approved, the program will begin at all seven of
the state’s public universities for the fall term of 2005.

“UO is very pleased to participate in this
process,” John Moseley, University senior vice president and provost,
said in an e-mail. “We do not know if it will result in an increase in
enrollment, but any increase will be small.”

According to the agenda for the State Board of Higher
Education’s March 4 meeting, OUS estimated approximately 94 eligible
undergraduates would attend the University and take advantage of the fee
remission in 2005-06.

“We would be happy to accept all those qualified
who do apply,” Moseley added.

The federal government already awards up to $4,500 in
tuition support for military personnel who also attend school full time. The
Voyager Program is intended to pay the difference between the federal support
and cost of college tuition.

Jonathan Jacobs, an OUS employee who is familiar with
the program, said the amount of the fee remission will vary from campus to

“It depends where you’re a student at,”
Jacobs said. “At Western Oregon, the $4,500 benefit will result in a
full coverage of fees and tuition. At the University of Oregon, there’s
$1,170 remaining.”

The average tuition cost for OUS institutions is
$5,670, Jacobs added. The University and Western Oregon represent the highest
and lowest tuition costs, respectively.

OUS calculated that 612 total undergraduates would use
Voyager statewide for a total payout of approximately $316,900.

The program will be above the proposed 10 percent
statewide cap on fee remissions, according to an OUS fact sheet.

Elizabeth Bickford, director of Student Financial Aid,
said she had input in the planning process for the program. “From the
conversations I’ve had, everyone seemed to be supportive of this for the very
same reasons,” Bickford said. “It’s a way to honor the Oregon National
and those members that serve in the Reserve. This is our way of
being able to give back to those men and women for their sacrifice.

The only eligible individuals are those called to
active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, and stationed in an area of combat. Other
eligibility requirements are that the student is an Oregon resident, is
admitted to the campus and is a degree-seeking undergraduate working on his
or her first degree. Students must exhibit satisfactory academic progress for
continued eligibility, according to the OUS fact sheet. There also will be a
limit on the duration a student may receive the assistance.

“We probably won’t have applications or the
process for at least a couple of months,” Bickford added. “If
people are curious, they might want to give us a call around the first of

“The Voyager Program is just one way that Oregon
can say ‘thank you’ to the men and women and their families who have made
tremendous sacrifices for our country and state,” Pernsteiner said.

“I do think this program is a very appropriate
recognition and hope that qualified veterans will take advantage of it,”
Moseley said.



Enlistees May Qualify for Deferral of Back Taxes

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February 25, 2005

By IRS Newswire

Reservists called to active duty and enlistees in the
armed forces may qualify for a deferral of taxes owed if they can show that
their ability to pay taxes was affected by their military service, according
to the Internal Revenue Service. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides
this benefit.

The act covers active duty members of the military
services — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard — and
commissioned officers of the uniformed services — Public Health Service and
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Reservists must be
placed on active duty to qualify. National Guard personnel not serving in a
“federalized” status — that is, called to active duty specifically by the
president of the United States — are not covered.

The deferral applies to taxes that fall due before or
during military service, and extends the payment deadline to six months (180
days) after the military service ends. No interest or penalty accrues during
the deferral period.

The deferral is not automatic. A taxpayer must apply
for it. When applying, the taxpayer must show how the military service
affected the taxpayer’s ability to pay. A taxpayer must also have received a
notice of tax due, or have an installment agreement with the IRS, before
applying for the deferral.

The deferral does not extend the deadline for filing
any tax returns. However, taxpayers in the armed forces may get extra time to
file under other provisions, such as being stationed overseas, in a combat
zone or in a qualified hazardous duty area, or if they are serving in direct
support of a combat zone.

Afghanistan and the airspace above was designated a
combat zone effective Sept. 19, 2001, by Executive Order No. 13239.

The following locations in the Kosovo area and the
airspace above were designated as a combat zone and a qualified hazardous
duty area effective March 24, 1999, by Executive Order No. 13119 and Public
Law 106-21:

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia/Montenegro)


The Adriatic Sea

The Ionian Sea — north of the 39th parallel

The following locations in the Arabia Peninsula areas
and the airspace above were designated as a combat zone effective Jan. 17,
1991, by Executive Order No. 12744:

The Persian Gulf

The Red Sea

The Gulf of Oman

The part of the Arabian Sea that is north of 10
degrees north latitude and west of 68 degrees east longitude

The Gulf of Aden

The total land areas of Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman,
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

The following areas in the former Yugoslavia were
designated a qualified hazardous duty area effective Nov. 21, 1995, by Public
Law 104-117:

Bosnia and Herzegovina



The following areas have been designated as serving in
direct support of a combat zone by the Assistant Secretary of Defense:

In support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (Arabian
Peninsula Areas combat zone):

Turkey – Jan. 1, 2003

Israel – Jan. 1 through July 31, 2003

The Mediterranean Sea east of 30° East longitude –
Mar. 19 through July 31, 2003

Jordan – Mar. 19, 2003

Egypt – Mar. 19 through Apr. 20, 2003

Syria – Jan. 1, 2004

In support of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan
combat zone):

Incerlik Air Base in Turkey, effective Sept. 21, 2001

Pakistan, Tajikistan and Jordan, effective Sept. 19,

Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, effective Oct. 1, 2001

The Philippines, effective Jan. 9, 2002

Yemen, effective April 10, 2002

Djibouti, effective July 1, 2002

Details of applying for the tax payment deferral are
in IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide. Download it or order it by
calling toll free 1-800-TAX-FORM (I-800-829-3676). Additional information on tax
issues affecting the military can be found at on the Individuals



GI Mortgage
Updates Open Doors For Buyers

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February 27, 2005

By Lew Sichelman, United Feature Syndicate.

WASHINGTON – The War in Iraq isn’t likely to make many
more military personnel eligible for favorable GI financing. But the 420,000
reservists called up since Sept. 11, 2001, to fight terrorism and bring
democracy to the Middle East will qualify much sooner than normal.

When they return to their families here in the states,
moreover, our freedom fighters will find a much more
“user-friendly” mortgage program, one that is better able to back
the purchase of homes in high-cost areas — and one that will be more in tune
with today’s mortgage marketplace.

Under legislation signed by President Bush in December,
the Department of Veterans Affairs now is standing behind mortgages of up to

Within the next three months or so, the agency will
propose more liberal rules that would allow veterans to pay “all
legitimate third-party” closing costs.

At first glance, that last step appears as though the VA
home loan program will be more expensive. But the opposite is true.

Because VA borrowers are prohibited from paying a number
of charges others pay as a matter of course, lenders and sellers are forced
to absorb the fees. Consequently, they either refuse to deal with VA
borrowers or raise their prices to cover their extra costs.

Keith Pedigo, long-time director of the VA’s Loan
Guaranty Service, said the pending change is not a big deal.

“We’re just fine-tuning the already long list of
charges veterans can pay to make it more consistent with the way closing
costs have evolved over the years,” he said. “There will be no
`big-ticket’ items.”

Pedigo is far more excited about the decision by
Congress to raise the VA guarantee to 25 percent of the conforming loan limit
and index the VA ceiling to the conforming limit so it can keep pace with
home prices.

He calls it the “most significant legislation”
to affect the program since 1970, when lawmakers voted to allow veterans to
use their housing benefit as often as they like — as long as they pay off
their previous VA mortgage.

Nearly a third of all VA borrowers are multiple users.

Until now, it took an act of Congress to increase the
guarantee, which is accepted by lenders as a substitute for a down payment.
And because our legislators are often not as swift as they could be when it
comes to housing, the program has always lagged behind rising housing costs.

The last time the guarantee was raised was in 2001, and
that was the first time it had been increased since 1995.

“For the last three years,” Pedigo said at the
recent International Builders Show in Orlando, “we practically have been
out of the market” in high-cost areas.

There is no doubt that the fighting in the Middle East
spurred Congress to act to change the rules.

 Under the VA’s eligibility rules, reservists and
members of the National Guard are not normally eligible for the
program until they complete six years of service. But the instant they are
called to active duty they qualify. And reservists account for the majority
of the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some $850 billion in VA-guaranteed loans have been
written since the program was enacted in 1944 as part of the Servicemen’s
Retirement Act, better known as the GI Bill, to reward military personnel
returning from World War II.

Currently, the VA backs about 260,000 loans a year.
Here’s a rundown on how the GI home loan benefit, known as an
“entitlement,” works:

   – The VA doesn’t make loans directly.
Rather, it promises to pay private lenders if a borrower should default on
his mortgage.

   – Lenders accept the guarantee as a
substitute for a down payment. And with the guarantee now pegged to 25
percent of the conforming loan limit, borrowers can currently buy houses
costing up to $359,650 without putting any money into the transaction.

Of course, VA borrowers can buy a more expensive house.
But for every $1,000 they borrow over the limit, they must put up $250 of
their own funds.

The conforming loan limit is the ceiling on loans that
can be purchased from local lenders by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two
federally chartered corporations that bring liquidity to the mortgage market.
Since the Fannie-Freddie limit goes up (or down) every year, from now on the
VA guarantee will, too.

   – Mortgage rates on VA loans are
usually slightly above the market. But there is no mortgage insurance
premium, and the loan can be taken over by anyone who buys the house when the
borrower decides to move on.

There is no free lunch, however. First-time users pay a
funding fee of 2.15 percent of the loan amount on no-down payment loans. The
fee increases to 3.3 percent if the borrower is a second-time user.

But if the borrower puts down at least 5 percent, the
fee drops to 1.5 percent. And with a 10 percent down payment, the fee is 1.25

 In all cases, though, the charge can be included
in the loan amount.

   – If the full benefit is not used, the
remainder can be used to buy another house. Also, full benefits usually can
be restored if the original property is sold and the loan is paid in full.

The majority of the nation’s 24 million veterans are
eligible for the benefit. To qualify, you must have served at least 90 days
on active duty during World War II or in the Korean, Vietnam or Gulf wars.

Enlisted personnel who started their service after Sept.
7, 1980, and officers who began after Oct. 16, 1981, are also eligible if
they have completed 24 months of continuous active duty.

In addition, servicemen and women who served at least
181 days during several peacetime periods — July 25, 1947, to June 26, 1950;
Feb. 2, 1955, to Aug. 6, 1964; and May 8, 1975, to Sept. 7, 1980, for
enlisted people and Oct. 16, 1981, for officers — also are eligible.

Reservists and National Guardsmen and women who
completed six years of service also qualify, as do unmarried spouses of vets
who died while in service or from a service-connected disability, and spouses
of a serviceperson missing in action or who is a prisoner of war.

In some places, veterans can combine their federal
benefits with those provided by their state governments. California, Oregon,
Wisconsin, Mississippi and Texas are among the handful of states that offer
housing assistance to military men and women residing within their borders.

   Still easier military loans

Enlisted personnel and their families will find it
easier to qualify for a mortgage under a new program announced by one of the
nation’s largest lenders.

Under Countrywide Home Loan’s U.S. Military Optimum
Loan, which has more liberal qualifying rules than those for VA-guaranteed
mortgages, borrowers can count flight or hazardous duty pay, quarters
allowances and proficiency pay as part of their base earnings. They can also
use the income generated from renting a room while the family member is
deployed, as well as supplemental but unverifiable income earned at second

Borrowers will need at least $500 or 1 percent of the
sales price as a down payment, whichever is greater.

But a family member or close friend can cosign if the
primary borrower is away and on active duty.

You may write to Lew Sichelman c/o Chicago Tribune, Real
Estate, 435 N. Michigan Ave., 4th floor, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail him at
[email protected]. Sorry, he cannot make personal replies.





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Soldiers And
Families Turn To The Internet For Peace Of Mind


The Associated Press

28 February 2005

By Holbrook Mohr

JACKSON, Miss With the recent deaths in Iraq of four
state Guardsmen and terrorist ambushes a constant threat, families and
friends of Mississippi soldiers are turning to the Internet for peace of

More than 3,500 Mississippians and others from Arkansas
and Vermont are currently serving in Iraq with the 155th Brigade Combat Team.
The soldiers trained at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg and deployed last month.

For the soldiers in the Middle East and their families
back home, Internet chatrooms, e-mail servers, and online family forums are
providing a network of support not available to previous generations.

“We were very shocked and saddened by the news
yesterday,” one writer on the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion’s Web site
said in lamenting the death of a soldier. The user also pleaded for others to
keep him updated on his brother’s unit, which is attached to the 155th.

“Please keep in contact with the forum, I check it
about every hour or so,” the message said. “It makes me feel

Joseph Ammerman and his wife Priscilla of Richland use
the Internet daily to keep up with their twin sons, Paul and Josh, both
serving in Iraq.

“(The Internet) has helped a great deal because a
lot of times they don’t have time to call. When you get up in the morning and
there’s an e-mail there, it kind of lifts your spirits,” Joseph Ammerman

Lt. Col. Tim Powell, a Mississippi National Guard
spokesman, said the Guard has used family readiness Web sites since the 155th
was sent on a training mission in 1999. He said during times of war the
Internet is especially helpful.

“The communication is instantaneous as opposed to
three or four weeks through the mail,” Powell said. “It’s a
remarkable tool.”

Not only are families able to better track soldiers, the
soldiers can keep abreast of what’s happening at home.

“Imagine being in the desert and getting an e-mail
from one of your children saying, ‘Hey Daddy it’s me,”‘ Powell said.
“Talk about lifting your spirits.”

Ammerman said military chat rooms are popping up because
there’s a need for them.

“It helps you get in touch with other people out
there who are going through the same thing you are,” he said. “It
helps to know there are other people going through the same stuff.”

 Others say the Web’s instant communication gives
families access to more in-depth information than is provided by
24-hour-a-day news channels, which families say can be a source of anxiety
for some people.

 Rose Allen’s husband, Sgt. Tommy Allen, 46, and
his son, Spc. Christopher Allen, 20, are both in Iraq with the 155th. She
said modern communications are a mixed blessing.

Rose Allen – the vice president of the Taylorsville
family support group for the 155th – comes from a military family; her
father, grandfather and father-in-law fought in wars in which some families
waited desperately for weeks, months or even years for a letter from their
loved ones.

Lately, however, Allen has been able to communicate with
her husband and son at least a few times a week. She said media reports from
Iraq frighten her.

“My husband had actually told me not to watch the
news because he says a lot of what you see is not really what is going on
over there,” she said. “But when I was watching and I heard that
two soldiers died, it really scared me.”

She was referring to the Feb. 16 deaths of 155th
soldiers Sgt. Timothy Osbey and Spc. Joseph Andrew “Drew” Rahaim,
who died when their vehicle rolled into a canal.

Rahaim was buried last Thursday in the Fort Benning Post
Cemetery in Georgia. Osbey was buried Saturday in Magnolia.

Besides providing a forum to keep up with the living,
the Internet has also provided a way to honor the fallen.

Many of the sites contain messages of grief and support
for families and friends who have lost their soldiers.

“As some of you have heard the unit has suffered
its first casualty,” one message says. “(Sgt. 1st Class) Sean
Cooley was a friend of mine … As you lay down to sleep tonight, keep Sean’s
family in your prayers.”



Guard Families Lean On Each Other

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer

February 25, 2005

By Patrick Condon
Associated Press Writer

ANOKA, Minn. — While Laurie Olmon’s husband was
serving in Iraq, the family’s basement flooded. The septic tank busted. A
wheel on her car fell off. Her dog got sick, and nearly died.

Then there were days when those hassles seemed trivial
– when the news brought fresh reports of U.S. soldiers being killed and
wounded in Iraq.

“They never say where it happens at first,”
said Olmon, whose husband, Phillip, a member of the Minnesota National
, returned home about a month ago after more than a year in Iraq.
“All they say is a bomb went off or a base was hit. I quit watching the

Olmon said she relied heavily on her husband’s unit,
which helped to assemble a loose network of National Guard families
who lean on each other for friendship and sympathy, as well as practical
support in everything from finding help on tax returns to cleaning out the

These networks are increasingly common across the
country as more military families wait out long overseas deployments.

More than 55,000 National Guard troops are
deployed in Iraq, and more than 170 have died there since the war began nearly
two years ago. On Monday, three Minnesota soldiers were killed by a roadside
bomb, marking the Minnesota National Guard‘s first fatalities in Iraq.

“My stomach still dropped when I first heard
it,” Olmon said.

Unlike families of active-duty soldiers, who often
live on military bases with built-in support networks, Guard families are
more dispersed and may not have the expertise to navigate bureaucracies and
access certain benefits.

To help remedy that, the Department of Defense
implemented a series of Family Assistance Centers in all 50 states, staffed
by consultants who give Guard families help with legal issues, insurance and
financial questions, household problems and whatever else might come up.

“In order for a soldier to be safe on a mission,
they have to know that their family is cared for at home,” said Gail
Mossman, one of the consultants in Minnesota, which has eight centers.

Sgt. Gwen Zimmerman is family liaison for Battery E of
the Minnesota Guard’s 151st Field Artillery Unit, based in Anoka. She has a
unique perspective on the job – her husband, Steve, is among the 20 or so
members of the unit still stationed in Iraq out of an initial force of about

Even as Zimmerman has helped Olmon and others
negotiate their own troubles, she’s navigated her own – like last spring,
when a windstorm blew over the family’s barn near Princeton.

“Murphy’s Law of military wives always
prevails,” said Zimmerman, whose husband is expected home next month.

Ann Marie Roder remembers the day last summer when the
air conditioning broke down – again. Her husband, Mark, who also is expected
to come home next month, had been in Iraq more than six months at the time.

“He happened to call that night,” she
recalled. “I was sitting on the living room floor, crying.”

Still, Monday’s news that three Minnesota Guardsmen
had been killed brought a stark reminder of the risks that soldiers face.

Olmon said she immediately thought of Roder and
Zimmerman, whose husbands turned out to be safe. Then she realized three
other families would be getting the dreaded call.

“Your heart just breaks,” Zimmerman said.

Roder and Olmon both volunteer to help out Zimmerman’s
efforts. Roder is the coordinator of the Family Readiness Group, a support
group. Olmon is co-coordinator of a phone tree that springs into action when
news filters over from Iraq, or if other information needs to be spread.

“It’s a camaraderie that I don’t think anyone
else could be aware of,” Olmon said.

She said the support networks, along with help from
family and friends, got her through her rockiest stretches.

“I spent more time on the phone crying, and
laughing, and hollering, than you can imagine,” Olmon said. “It was
agonizing and it was traumatic. But it was a learning experience. Parts of
it, I know I grew from. And parts of it I never want to go through





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 Trauma Of Iraq War Haunting Thousands
Returning Home; A New Generation Of Vets Is Seeking Help For Stress Disorder


 USA Today
February 28, 2005

By William M. Welch

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Jeremy Harrison sees the warning signs in the Iraq
war veterans who walk through his office door every day — flashbacks,
inability to relax or relate, restless nights and more.

He recognizes them as symptoms of combat stress because he’s trained to,
as a counselor at the small storefront Vet Center here run by the U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs. He recognizes them as well because he, too,
has faced readjustment in the year since he returned from Iraq, where he
served as a sergeant in an engineering company that helped capture Baghdad in

“Sometimes these sessions are helpful to me,” Harrison says, taking a
break from counseling some of the nation’s newest combat veterans. “Because I
deal with a lot of the same problems.”

As the United States nears the two-year mark in its military presence in
Iraq still fighting a violent insurgency, it is also coming to grips with one
of the products of war at home: a new generation of veterans, some of them
scarred in ways seen and unseen. While military hospitals mend the physical
wounds, the VA is attempting to focus its massive health and benefits
bureaucracy on the long-term needs of combat veterans after they leave
military service. Some suffer from wounds of flesh and bone, others of
emotions and psyche.

These injured and disabled men and women represent the most grievously
wounded group of returning combat veterans since the Vietnam War, which
officially ended in 1975. Of more than 5 million veterans treated at VA
facilities last year, from counseling centers like this one to big hospitals,
48,733 were from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of the most common wounds aren’t seen until soldiers return home.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an often-debilitating mental
condition that can produce a range of unwanted emotional responses to the
trauma of combat. It can emerge weeks, months or years later. If left
untreated, it can severely affect the lives not only of veterans, but their
families as well.

Of the 244,054 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan already discharged from
service, 12,422 have been in VA counseling centers for readjustment problems
and symptoms associated with PTSD. Comparisons to past wars are difficult
because emotional problems were often ignored or written off as “combat
fatigue” or “shell shock.” PTSD wasn’t even an official diagnosis, accepted
by the medical profession, until after Vietnam.

There is greater recognition of the mental-health consequences of combat
now, and much research has been done in the past 25 years. The VA has a
program that attempts to address them and supports extensive research.
Harrison is one of 50 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars hired by the
VA as counselors for their fellow veterans.

‘It takes you back there’

Post-traumatic stress was defined in 1980, partly based on the
experiences of soldiers and victims of war. It produces a wide range of
symptoms in men and women who have experienced a traumatic event that
provoked intense fear, helplessness or horror.

The events are sometimes re-experienced later through intrusive
memories, nightmares, hallucinations or flashbacks, usually triggered by
anything that symbolizes or resembles the trauma. Troubled sleep,
irritability, anger, poor concentration, hypervigilance and exaggerated
responses are often symptoms.

Individuals may feel depression, detachment or estrangement, guilt,
intense anxiety and panic, and other negative emotions. They often feel they
have little in common with civilian peers; issues that concern friends and
family seem trivial after combat.

Harrison says they may even hit their partners during nightmares and
never know it.

Many Iraq veterans have returned home to find the aftermath of combat
presents them with new challenges:

*Jesus Bocanegra was an Army infantry scout for units that pursued
Saddam Hussein in his hometown of Tikrit. After he returned home to McAllen,
Texas, it took him six months to find a job.

He was diagnosed with PTSD and is waiting for the VA to process his disability
claim. He goes to the local Vet Center but is unable to relate to the
Vietnam-era counselors.

“I had real bad flashbacks. I couldn’t control them,” Bocanegra, 23,
says. “I saw the murder of children, women. It was just horrible for anyone
to experience.”

Bocanegra recalls calling in Apache helicopter strikes on a house by the
Tigris River where he had seen crates of enemy ammunition carried in. When
the gunfire ended, there was silence.

But then children’s cries and screams drifted from the destroyed home,
he says. “I didn’t know there were kids there,” he says. “Those screams are
the most horrible thing you can hear.”

At home in the Rio Grande Valley, on the Mexico border, he says young
people have no concept of what he’s experienced. His readjustment has been
difficult: His friends threw a homecoming party for him, and he got arrested
for drunken driving on the way home.

“The Army is the gateway to get away from poverty here,” Bocanegra says.
“You go to the Army and expect to be better off, but the best job you can get
(back home) is flipping burgers. … What am I supposed to do now? How are you
going to live?”

*Lt. Julian Goodrum, an Army reservist from Knoxville, Tenn., is being
treated for PTSD with therapy and anti-anxiety drugs at Walter Reed Army
Medical Center in Washington. He checked himself into a civilian psychiatric
hospital after he was turned away from a military clinic, where he had sought
attention for his mental problems at Fort Knox, Ky. He’s facing a
court-martial for being AWOL while in the civilian facility.

Goodrum, 34, was a transportation platoon leader in Iraq, running
convoys of supplies from Kuwait into Iraq during the invasion. He returned to
the USA in the summer of 2003 and experienced isolation, depression, an
inability to sleep and racing thoughts.

“It just accumulated until it overwhelmed me. I was having a breakdown
and trying to get assistance,” he says. “The smell of diesel would trigger
things for me. Loud noises, crowds, heavy traffic give me a hard time now. I
have a lot of panic. … You feel like you’re choking.”

*Sean Huze, a Marine corporal awaiting discharge at Camp Lejeune, N.C.,
doesn’t have PTSD but says everyone who saw combat suffers from at least some
combat stress. He says the unrelenting insurgent threat in Iraq gives no
opportunity to relax, and combat numbs the senses and emotions.

“There is no ‘front,’ ” Huze says. “You go back to the rear, at the Army
base in Mosul, and you go in to get your chow, and the chow hall blows up.”

Huze, 30, says the horror often isn’t felt until later. “I saw a dead
child, probably 3 or 4 years old, lying on the road in Nasiriyah,” he says.
“It moved me less than if I saw a dead dog at the time. I didn’t care. Then
you come back, if you are fortunate enough, and hold your own child, and you
think of the dead child you didn’t care about. … You think about how little
you cared at the time, and that hurts.”

Smells bring back the horror. “A barbecue pit — throw a steak on the
grill, and it smells a lot like searing flesh,” he says. “You go to get your
car worked on, and if anyone is welding, the smell of the burning metal is no
different than burning caused by rounds fired at it. It takes you back there

*Allen Walsh, an Army reservist, came back to Tucson 45 pounds lighter
and with an injured wrist. He was unable to get his old job back teaching at
a truck-driving school. He started his own business instead, a mobile
barbecue service. He’s been waiting nearly a year on a disability claim with
the VA.

Walsh, 36, spent much of the war in Kuwait, attached to a Marine unit
providing force protection and chemical decontamination. He says he has
experienced PTSD, which he attributes to the constant threat of attack and
demand for instant life-or-death decisions.

“It seemed like every day you were always pointing your weapon at
somebody. It’s something I have to live with,” he says.

At home, he found he couldn’t sleep more than three or four hours a
night. When the nightmares began, he started smoking cigarettes. He’d find
himself shaking and quick-tempered.

“Any little noise and I’d jump out of bed and run around the house with
a gun,” he says. “I’d wake up at night with cold sweats.”

‘A safe environment’

A recent Defense Department study of combat troops returning from Iraq
found that soldiers and Marines who need counseling the most are least likely
to seek it because of the stigma of mental health care in the military.

One in six troops questioned in the study admitted to symptoms of severe
depression, PTSD or other problems. Of those, six in 10 felt their commanders
would treat them differently and fellow troops would lose confidence if they
acknowledged their problems.

A report this month by the Government Accountability Office said the VA
“is a world leader in PTSD treatment.” But it said the department “does not
have sufficient capacity to meet the needs of new combat veterans while still
providing for veterans of past wars.” It said the department hasn’t met its
own goals for PTSD clinical care and education, even as it anticipates
“greater numbers of veterans with PTSD seeking VA services.”

Harrison, who was a school counselor and Army Reservist from Wheeling,
W.Va., before being called to active duty in January 2003, thinks cases of
PTSD may be even more common than the military’s one-in-six estimate.

He is on the leading edge of the effort to help these veterans back
home. Harrison and other counselors invite Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to
stop in to talk. Often, that leads to counseling sessions and regular weekly
group therapy. If appropriate, they refer the veterans to VA doctors for drug
therapies such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

“First of all, I let them talk. I want to find out all their problems,”
he says. “Then I assure them they’re not alone. It’s OK.”

Fifty counselors from the latest war is a small number, considering the
VA operates 206 counseling centers across the country. Their strategy is to
talk with veterans about readjustment before they have problems, or before
small problems become big ones. The VA also has staff at 136 U.S. military
bases now, including five people at Walter Reed, where many of the most
grievously injured are sent.

The toughest part of helping veterans, Harrison says, is getting them to
overcome fears of being stigmatized and to step into a Vet Center. “They
think they can handle the situation themselves,” he says.

Vet Centers provide help for broader issues of readjustment back to
civilian life, including finding a job, alcohol and drug abuse counseling,
sexual trauma counseling, spouse and family counseling, and mental or
emotional problems that fall short of PTSD.

More than 80% of the staff are veterans, and 60% served in combat zones,
says Al Batres, head of the VA’s readjustment counseling service. “We’re
oriented toward peer counseling, and we provide a safe environment for
soldiers who have been traumatized,” he says.

“A Vietnam veteran myself, it would have been so great if we’d had this
kind of outreach,” says Johnny Bragg, director of the Vet Center where Harrison
works. “If you can get with the guys who come back fresh … and actually work
with their trauma and issues, hopefully over the years you won’t see the
long-term PTSD.”

In all cases, the veteran has to be the one who wants to talk before
counselors can help. “Once they come through the door, they usually come
back,” Harrison says. “For them, this is the only chance to talk to somebody,
because their families don’t understand, their friends don’t understand.
That’s the big thing. They can’t talk to anyone. They can’t relate to





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Jobs Don’t
Always Wait For Guards, Reservists. Citizen Soldiers Find Duty In Iraq Can
Dent Families’ Finances


San Francisco Chronicle
February 20, 2005

By Matthew B. Stannard, Chronicle Staff Writer

When Steve Pittman Jr. finally returned to California
from Iraq late in December, he was thinking about getting back to two things.
One was his girlfriend. The other was his truck. Not necessarily in that order.

One thing that didn’t worry him was his job at a lube
shop, where he worked until he was activated by his California National
unit. But once he was in Oxnard (Ventura County), employment
suddenly moved to the top of the list. “They had already replaced
me,” he said. Pittman said his boss explained politely that business had
boomed in Pittman’s absence, and while the shop might have an opening in a
few weeks, he was keeping Pittman’s replacement on the job.

“That was understandable,” Pittman said. But
it still left him without a job as his bank balance — fat from combat pay
and months on a base with little to buy — rapidly thinned out. Pittman’s
experience is being repeated across the nation as members of the National
and Reserve — mobilized in numbers and for a duration not seen in
60 years, return from tours of duty in Iraq to the civilian workforce.

Older, further along in their careers and often with
larger families than their active-duty peers, members of the National
and Reserve, experts say, have been especially affected by the
demands of lengthy — and in some cases repeated — deployments to Iraq. And
while Pittman experienced an extreme scenario, thousands of soldiers are
returning home and finding a range of difficulties — from paperwork hassles
to losing their homes and businesses — as they try to fit back into civilian
life. And officials are scrambling to solve that problem before tens of
thousands more troops come home.

“This just hasn’t happened since World War II,
and in World War II, the whole country was mobilized in effect, so this
didn’t happen,” said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Monroe Jr., former adjutant
general of the California National Guard. “It is something that
no one is prepared to deal with in an effective way.”

More than 412,000 Guard and reservists have been
called up nationwide since Sept. 11, 2001, and 185,432 remain on active duty.
And officials in the military, government and volunteer organizations whose
job it is to assist returning troops say that when difficulties occur, the
system works pretty well.

While the size of the problem is new, the issues
around it are not — Monroe’s own son, a National Guard captain, lost
his job while mobilized for Operation Noble Eagle, the call-up of reservists
for domestic duty after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Helping his son brought Monroe into close contact with
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a volunteer organization working
to alleviate hardships that military service can cause for employers and
employees alike.

An ombudsmen for the support organization contacted
Monroe’s son’s employer with a gentle reminder that federal law — the
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act — requires that,
with few exceptions,military service members are entitled to their civilian
jobs after deployment,along with the seniority, status and pay they would
have had if they had stayed at home.

With surprising speed, Monroe’s son was back at work,
and today the general, who left the Guard Adjutant General’s office last
year, is California vice chairman of Employer Support.

Most cases brought to the organization have similarly
happy endings, said John Woolley, Northern California vice chairman of the

Woolley’s volunteer position has turned into a more or
less full-time job in the past year and a half, as complaints from service
members have spiked. But more than 80 percent of the complaints are resolved
with a friendly phone call and letter to the employer explaining the law, he

Cases that can’t be resolved might be sent to the
Department of Labor for action and even to the Department of Justice, which
can file a lawsuit.

The departments of Defense, Labor and Justice track
such cases differently, and some have been revamping their procedures since
the Iraq war began, making it tricky to know the scale of the problem.
Employer Support reported that since April, it has received 6,462 queries, of
which 5,739 have been successfully mediated between reservist and employer.

Department of Labor officials said they opened fewer
than 1,500 cases in fiscal year 2004 — an increase over the two previous
years, but still less than the number opened after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
And the Department of Justice reported it has only 16 open investigations
this fiscal year.

Still, Woolley said he was worried about the vast
demobilization down the road. “When the tides go out, that’s not a
problem,” he said. “But when the tide comes back in — that’s a

Woolley and others in the group are working hard to
increase awareness of the law not only among employers, through a range of
award programs and outreach activities, but also among service members,
through pre- and post-deployment briefings.

Even then, the system can’t help some troops —
including Pittman, whose California job hunt went poorly, in large part
because he didn’t have the right paperwork allowing him to apply the welding
skills he learned in Iraq to a job in the state.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” he said,
“especially when I can out-weld about half of the damn applicants.”

The Department of Labor is looking at ways to make it
easier for returning veterans to get state certifications for the kinds of
work they do in the military, as well as to help returning service members
translate their military experience into civilian resume material. The
department has launched a nationwide campaign encouraging employers to hire
veterans, and plans to issue guidelines helping employers understand and obey
the law.

“We find that in most cases the problems occur
because the employer did not understand what the law requires,” said
Frederico Juarbe Jr., assistant secretary of labor for veterans employment
and training, speaking in San Jose last week at the first West Coast meeting
of the White House’s year-old National Hire Veterans Committee.

But all those services — such as the employment
rights law — are useless if the members fail to use them, and officials
can’t know how many returning troops don’t know the law or are too proud to

Pittman, for one, decided not to file a complaint and
instead headed to Indiana to live with his parents.

“Call it my upbringing, but I tend not to
bitch,” the 25-year-old said. “Probably the most valuable thing my
dad ever gave me was a work ethic. I’ve never been without a job for

Pay differential

Not every employment issue faced by mobilized Guard
members and reservists can be addressed. One is the issue of pay differential
for civilian and military jobs.

“There is definitely a problem. The problem is
particularly significant for people who make a lot of money in civilian life,
and then make a lot less when they go on active duty,” said retired Army
Reserve Col. Alfred Diaz, past national vice president of the Reserve
Officers Association. “Those people are the ones likely to lose all
their savings, and maybe even their houses.”

Scott Hellesto, a 35-year-old paramedic and
firefighter, was activated as a Navy corpsman, causing his pay to drop from
more than $70,000 to less than $50,000. His wife ended up on the state Women,
Infants and Children support program and had to move with their three
children into a smaller home in Antioch.

“We had a nice rental house, and I had to put my
family in a shoe-box apartment,” he said. “This place was a dive.
… Our car got broken into twice,our tires got popped on our car.”

Six months after he returned, Hellesto and his wife
were able to buy a new home in time for the birth of their fourth child. But
while he does not regret military service — “If they call me back
today, I’d go,” he said — he also says there should be a way to serve
without so much sacrifice.

“When you sign up for the military, you know
there’s no such thing as a rich man in the military,” he said.
“(But) who’s to say that my time in the military is any less valuable
than my time at the firehouse?”

The result isn’t only a strain on the individual, it’s
a strain on the military when that individual gets fed up and quits, Diaz

“It’s affecting National Guard recruiting
in particular,” he said. “Reserve recruiting is going to be
affected as well, and retention is going to be affected.”

Diaz went to Washington last week to support a bill
introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, which would require federal
employers to continue paying activated employees the difference between their
civilian and military wages, and would offer tax credits to civilian
employers who voluntarily do the same.

Small business owners

Officials haven’t quite figured out how to solve the
problems of another category of returnees — the self-employed and small
business owners, who make up an estimated 7 percent of Guard members and
reservists, according to a 2003 Department of Defense study.

National Guard Staff Sgt. Ken Weichert, 38, of
San Francisco operates START Fitness, a boot-camp-style fitness and self-defense
course for civilians.For almost seven years, the former Army drill
instructor’s one-weekend-a-month, two-weeks-a-year National Guard
training schedule caused no problems.

But when his military intelligence battalion was
activated in February 2003 with just a few days’ notice, he figured he was
out of business. “I gave power of attorney over to my wife, and I said
shut it down,” he said.

“They said it was going to be four months. It
turned out to be 13. … Any ready reservist who’s activated that owns his
own business is not protected by anything,” he said. “If their
business goes under, their business goes under.”

As it turned out, Weichert’s wife, Stephanie — they
married the day before he deployed — was more resourceful than he’d
realized. Weichert returned to discover that she had gotten her own
instructor certification, hired some of his black-belt-qualified friends and
managed to keep 80 percent of his membership. Weichert feels he dodged a
bullet, thanks to the support of his wife.

“There are a lot of business owners — a lot more
than I thought there were. Insurance salesmen, real estate brokers,” he
said. “If they’re not there,their commissions gravely suffer and they go
down to pennies from hundreds.”

“Nobody knows the scale of the problem,”
said William Elmore, associate administrator of the Office of Veterans
Business Development at the U.S. Small Business Administration, the main
source of assistance for people like Weichert. “Our estimate is
somewhere in the range of 30,000 small business owners have been

Elmore said the range of programs available to
returning troops like Weichert is significant and growing, with new outreach
centers — including one in Sacramento — dedicated to getting those
resources to returning troops.

Both Elmore and Woolley, of Employer Support, said the
government could do more to directly assist small-business owners.

“They’re not gone forever. They’re gone for a
year, maybe less than that,” he said. “I think the United States of
America could keep a small business going for a year.”



Family Readiness
Group There “Every Step of the Way”

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of Contents

Forces Press Service

Feb. 23, 2005

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA

WASHINGTON, — For a unit the size of the 652nd
Engineer Company – – only 176 soldiers — losing one soldier in combat is
tragic enough.

But losing four comrades was especially difficult
for Army 1st Sgt. Michael Barnhardt, whose National Guard unit has its
headquarters in Ellsworth, Wis., arrived in Iraq in April 2003.

“Every first sergeant makes a promise to
himself that the people you take over, you’re going to bring home,” he
said. “We got hit hard, so it hurts. We took it hard, we took a lot of

In July of that year, just three months into the
652nd’s deployment, one soldier was killed in an ambush.

Then, tragically, two more were killed on
Christmas Day. “They were talking to family over the Internet when a
mortar hit,” Barnhardt said.

A fourth soldier was killed in another ambush
just five days before the unit was to deploy back home in April 2004. During
the unit’s yearlong deployment, 20 other soldiers would receive Purple Hearts
for injuries received in combat.

“It was an emotional time for us
throughout,” Barnhardt explained. “We were up and down

But not only was it tough dealing with the
tragedy in theater, Barnhardt said he also worried about the families back
home, especially the families of those soldiers killed.

“You have to get over the fact that a lot of
it’s out of your control,” he said.

That may have been the case for the soldiers in
Iraq, but back at home the situation was much in control — of the family
readiness group.

Many people “in the rear” were working
to help ease the first sergeant’s worries. The unit’s family readiness group
was already helping the families of the fallen soldiers deal with their

“It was like they wrapped their arms around
us,” Barndhart said.

Toni Kasparek, the unit’s family readiness group
leader, was one of the people who reached out to embrace the unit. Her
husband, Army Capt. Dean Kasparek, is the unit’s commander.

To help comfort families, Kasparek said, many in
her group went to the funerals, brought food, and sent Christmas cards and
flowers. “It was a real challenge for us,” she said. “The
first casualty caught us by surprise, it opened our eyes. We were thinking
the war was over and they were just doing support missions; we were so

“It just brought everybody to the reality
that they are really in a dangerous situation,” she added.

When the 652nd first mobilized in February 2003,
dozens of family readiness group volunteers helped welcome new soldiers in
the unit by distributing welcome packets and helping take care of
pre-deployment family issues. The group also helped family members get
identification cards and get their military benefits started.

A “telephone tree” was created with
important phone numbers for where to call for help and so family members
could stay in contact.

During the unit’s deployment, about 25 members of
the group held monthly meetings, met for picnics, and marched in parades.
They also met with a Congress member from their district.

Kasparek said the group’s activities were a way
of supporting each other and helping family members connect with their

“No one else knows what it’s like to have
your husband in combat but another wife or a mother or sister,” she
said. “The family readiness group can be a shoulder to cry on or an ear
to listen to their issues and their stories. To a certain extent you become a
sounding board for the problems spouses are experiencing.”

During a Feb. 18 Pentagon ceremony in which
several Guard and Reserve family readiness groups were honored for their
service, the 652nd among them, Army Brig. Gen. Michael Beasley, commander of
the 88th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Snelling, Minn., praised the
unit’s family readiness group for its support to families, especially those
who lost loved ones.

Beasley, who has more than 400 Guard and Reserve
units over six states under his command, said the 652nd’s family readiness
team “stood by every step of the way” during the unit’s most tragic

“They maintained communication, and they
maintained a caring nurturing attitude towards all of the families including
some the unit’s extended families,” he said. “They never tired;
they were always the backbone of the unit; and through extraordinary hardship
… they stood with the deployed unit (as closely) as any organization I have
ever seen.”

Said Beasley, “You just can’t fight
effectively if you are worried about what’s happening on the home front. And
the family readiness group is essential to providing that security of knowing
that your family is taken care of.”




Duty Calls
on the Homefront – Helping Troops Who Want To Phone Home

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of Contents

 The Providence Journal (Rhode Island)

February 22, 2005

 SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Capt. Eric Carlson, an ROTC
instructor at the University of Rhode Island and a company commander with the
National Guard‘s 43rd Military Police Brigade, knows the importance of
phone cards.

Carlson and his troops in the 169th Military Police
Company spent eight months in 2003 and 2004, guarding suspected terrorists at
the United States’ prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“The only way you could call home was with a
calling card or collect, but collect was $3 a minute or something like
that,” Carlson said. “The only viable way — the best way — to
call home was with a calling card.”

And, Carlson added, “You go through calling cards
very quickly.” That’s why Carlson and Lt. Col. Paul J. Krajeski, who
heads URI’s ROTC program, are lending their support to URI senior Tom Shevlin
of Jamestown who is about to launch an all-volunteer effort in Rhode Island
for the USO’s Operation Phone Home.

He was driving home from New Jersey one night recently
when he heard a public service announcement on the radio about Operation
Phone Home.

The message about Phone Home hit home.

“I have some friends overseas and I wanted a way to
help,” Shevlin said. Those servicemen friends include a best friend with
the Marines in Afghanistan.

What he liked most about the announcement was that the
USO is pledging that 100 percent of donations will go to the purchase,
shipping and distribution of phone cards.

Now, with the help of a small group of URI students and
some family members, he will launch his support operation for Operation Phone
Home on March 1 in Washington and Newport Counties and end it on Memorial

If it does well in southern Rhode Island, and additional
volunteers sign up, he’ll extend it statewide until July 4.

The plan is to put as many donation canisters as
possible in businesses throughout South County and on Aquidneck Island. A URI
art student is designing posters to be placed with the canisters.

Volunteers will be used to place the canisters, collect
the money and send it to the USO. No one will be paid, Shevlin said.

Shevlin, 24, a political science major and son of Tom
and Paula Shevlin, has no goal for how much he hopes to collect, nor is he
looking for recognition. “I just want to get the message out that this
is a good cause,” he said.

He said he hopes some of the phone cards end up in the
hands of Rhode Islanders deployed overseas and that they know the cards came
from the Ocean State. “That,” he said, “would be a real morale

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