Soldiers' families keep eyes on Iraq

May 25, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Now that Americans have settled back into their pop culture groove, the news we crave is: How did Annika Sorenstam fare against the men in golf? Who killed Laci Peterson? Did Ruben deserve to win "American Idol"?

Post-war Iraq and the American troops stationed there sometimes become background chatter in the daily news cycle.

But not for the Vaughns of Clear Spring. They're paying attention. Their son, U.S. Marines Sgt. Christopher C. Reely, 26, was deployed from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to the Middle East on Feb. 1.

Or the Mowers in Hagerstown, who have heard that their son, U.S. Army Capt. Scott Allan Mower of the 223rd Med Detachment, might be home by October.


Bonnie Mower is glad her son, Scott, received four care packages so far, but wishes he also got the other 13 she sent.

Joanna Henson of Clear Spring still has her attention trained on Iraq, where her son, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cory A. Hebb, 24, is in a specialized police detail.

Amy Peck of Chambersburg, Pa., said she's proud of her son, U.S. Army Capt. Kevin A. Peck.

He's normally stationed with the Great Plains Regional Medical Command in San Antonio, but he volunteered to go to Iraq with a Colorado-based regiment that needed extra commanders.

Major fighting may have ended a month ago, but that's no relief for local families with relatives still serving in Iraq. They're still worried; safety is not guaranteed.

U.S. Marines Pfc. Charles S. Files of Falling Waters, W.Va., 19, left for Iraq on Jan. 28 and came back to home base in California on Friday, his father, Greg Smith, said.

Files' mother, Candi Smith, flew to California and greeted him as he stepped off a chartered bus while a U.S. Marines band played, Greg Smith said.

"She was able to run up and give him hugs and kisses," Smith said. "It was very spine-tingling is what she said. It just sent goose bumps up her spine."

Smith said his son is due home next weekend for a two- or three-week leave.

Before his son's safe return, Smith said, he felt more apprehensive in recent weeks than when the war was in full rage.

"In the early stages, you kind of knew who to fight," he said. "Now, you don't. You don't know if an 8-year-old kid is going to walk up to you with a bomb strapped to him."

Part of Smith's advice to his son before he left was "Trust no one over there."

"When the hype is on, everybody's watching ...," Peck said. "The worst of the war's over, (but) there's still pockets of resistance everywhere."

"I was feeling good - until the suicide bombings came up, and that's got me on edge again," Henson said.

Deadly bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco this month are thought to be the work of terrorists, perhaps the al-Qaida network.

"I'm not sure that it's over with," Henson said.

Tired, dirty and safe

Reely, a Marine, was sent to Kuwait with the 2nd Tank Battalion, which later attacked several cities in Iraq, according to a news clipping Reely's mother, Kimberley Vaughn, has.

Reely didn't talk to his mother until about two weeks ago. When they spoke, he purposely told her very little, knowing the full story of his travails might send her reeling, she said.

Afterward, Vaughn heard some tidbits from Reely's wife, Karen. He said he was tired of being shot at. They cut his daily rations from two meals to one.

Together, it's all a mother can bear.

"And he's your only son and will be a daddy again and has a 5-year-old son, so this is really getting on my nerves," Vaughn said.

When she found out that Reely, a tank gunner, would be deployed to Iraq, "I was a mess," she said. "I had nothing but migraines. I couldn't sleep.

"I'm so used to contacting him."

With just one letter from her son and sporadic news accounts about his unit, Reely had little to boost her mood.

Then, he called when he got to Kuwait, but he kept the call light to avoid alarming his mother. It didn't work.

Briefly buoyed by Reely's voice, "I lost it again," she said.

Henson said she tenses up anytime the phone rings.

She gets about two e-mails a week from Hebb, including a few pictures.

Hebb has security clearance for his duties, so he keeps his messages vague because the information is sensitive.

"He's tired and dirty," his mother said. "He's safe."

Hebb's unit, the 822nd Security Forces Division out of Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga., has been to Tallil and An Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. At one point, the unit guarded an oil tank, Henson said.

Hebb's wife, Tiffany Buchanan Hebb, and the couple's 11-month-old son, Tristan, stayed for a while in Washington County, but left last week to visit her family in North Carolina.

She is expecting a second child in October.

By then, the family hopes, Hebb will be stateside and at his new assigned base in Salt Lake City. With his six-year commitment scheduled to end Oct. 1, he re-enlisted.

Before he left, he told his mother not to worry. She said last week that that's impossible.

A son's choice

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