War dampens holiday - hattiesburgamerican.com
War dampens holiday
By Janet Braswell
American Senior Writer email@example.com
After eight months hauling fuel in Iraq, Thanksgiving means more than turkey and dressing to Michael McSwain of Hattiesburg.
"I feel a whole lot thankful that I'm back home with loved ones, family and friends," he said.
A member of the Army Reserve's 296th Transportation Co. in Brookhaven, McSwain left Mississippi in January, got to Iraq in February and returned home in September.
"There were a few close calls," he said. "It just happened the ones that shot at us needed a little bit more target practice."
McSwain, 29, will be on the road today, picking up his girlfriend and traveling to the homes of relatives, including his mother, Marjorie McSwain in Hattiesburg.
"It's going to be a joyful time," he said.
But for those with loved ones still overseas or preparing to leave for Iraq or Afghanistan, much of the joy is missing from the family gatherings.
"We're going through the motions," said Angela Hoeflich of Richton.
Her husband, Sgt. Samuel Hoeflich, is in Iraq with the National Guard's 890th Engineer Battalion.
"We're trying to keep things light and happy for the kids but they know it and we know it," she said. "What else can we do? One of my cousins is home on R&R and we saw him the other day and my littlest one cried all the way home."
The Hoeflichs have two sons, 11-year-old Tyler and Blake, 7.
Children also will be in the thoughts of Sgt. Christopher English's family in Hattiesburg and Petal. He and his wife - Spec. Leah Frojen English - are both in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division and their three children are in Seattle with her parents.
"We're going to be thankful that they're safe," said Ginny English of Hattiesburg, Christopher English's stepmother. "We're going to pray a lot for all of them."
The couple met while serving in Korea and were married Dec. 4, 1998. Leah English, who serves with a quartermaster unit in Mosul, deployed in early August after giving birth to their third child, Tyler, on May 22. Kylee is 4 and Blake is almost 3.
"She stayed at Fort Campbell and took care of the kids until Tyler was born," Ginny English said. "We told her when she left she had to put her mommy hat on the shelf."
Christopher English's family - Steve and Ginny English of Hattiesburg and Dwayne and Cathy Thrash of Petal - are especially thankful that he was not on either of the Blackhawk helicopters that crashed Nov. 15 in Mosul.
"He had called us the morning before and said he was flying over but something happened and he didn't get to go," Ginny English said. "That was a long 25 hours. There's guilt you feel after rejoicing that the KIA (killed in action) was not yours. It is a double-edged sword because you know there is a family that will never be the same."
The crash killed Spc. Jeremiah DiGiovanni, 21, of the Pricedale community. He and Christopher English were friends and English photographed the memorial service held in Iraq and will send the photos to his family, she said.
Dale Carnahan of Beaumont will spend today with his younger son and think a lot about his older one who will be home from Air National Guard training for Christmas.
But by then, Carnahan will be deployed with the 298th Corps Support Battalion in Philadelphia.
"The hardest thing is leaving family and friends," he said. "A lot can happen while you're gone."
Carnahan, 50, is a full-time employee at Camp Shelby, Perry County fire coordinator and chief of the Beaumont Volunteer Fire Department. He served during Operation Desert Storm in the 155th Armored Brigade which was finishing training in California when the war ended.
The 298th will report to Fort Stewart, Ga., on Dec. 9 and go overseas four to six weeks later.
"It will be a unique experience," he said. "It's something we've trained for for many years. It's time for a lot of folks to come home, so we'll go over there and do our thing and come back and live a normal life."
He'll spend today with his wife, Sherri, and 12-year-old Sean.
"He's proud that I'm going, but he hates that I'm going to be gone at Christmas," Carnahan said. "I told him he's going to have to take care of things until big brother gets home."
Joshua Carnahan, 22, is a member of the 186th Air Refueling Wing in Meridian and is at firefighting and crash rescue school at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas.
"I haven't seen him since August," Dale Carnahan said. "I just hope he doesn't get caught up in it."
War dampens holiday - hattiesburgamerican.com
TheBostonChannel.com - News - Soldier Welcomed Home For Holiday
Soldier Welcomed Home For Holiday
Army Lt. Cara Mezzetti Home From Iraq
POSTED: 4:58 p.m. EST November 26, 2003
UPDATED: 6:13 p.m. EST November 26, 2003
NEWTON, Mass. -- A Newton family is welcoming their young soldier home this Thanksgiving following her service during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
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NewsCenter 5's Jim Boyd reported that the Mezzetti family has a lot to be thankful for but they haven't forgotten the soldiers who are still far from home this holiday.
Cara Mezzetti, 25, an Army lieutenant on leave from Iraq, was welcomed home by her family Wednesday.
"From the minute I got off the plane and saw all my sisters and nieces and nephews, my mom and dad holding up banners, everybody my whole family, right there," said Cara Mezzetti.
"I'm just so happy she's here. Just want to be with her and get your arms around her all the time," said Liam Mezzetti, Cara's father.
Cara Mezzetti said she expected a warm reception from her family, but she said what she was overwhelmed by was the amount of support she received from the entire community.
"If you look on my street, every single tree has yellow ribbons," said Cara Mezzetti. "I just was so emotional. My oldest neighbors put up a welcome home sign right across the street out there."
Mezzetti said there were very stressful times during the war.
"I believe there were Scuds (missiles) coming in and in between them, you were just sitting there and we were just trying to have fun as best we could to lighten the mood just a little bit, to take a little bit of the seriousness out of the situation," said Cara Mezzetti.
Mezzetti is now stationed in Germany. But at home in Newton, this family's is tempered by thoughts of less fortunate military families who have lost loved ones in Iraq.
"I'm just so happy. Tears of joy, but I also feel so very sad for the other people," said Cara's mother, Emer Mezzetti.
"Maybe it's over for me, but it's not over. There's so much still going on over there, every single day," said Cara Mezzetti. TheBostonChannel.com - News - Soldier Welcomed Home For Holiday
As Iraq deaths mount, grief surrounds Fort Campbell
It can start with a knock on the door.
A soldier in full dress uniform, sometimes accompanied by a chaplain, has the duty of delivering the terrible news to the next of kin.
At dawn on Oct.24 Jeannie Hancock looked out the window of her Clarksville, Tenn., home and saw a car turn into her driveway. Two uniformed men approached the house.
She had had an uneasy feeling overnight. Typically, she said, she chatted online several times a week with her husband, Sgt. Michael Hancock, serving with Charlie Battery of the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery. But that night he did not reply to her e-mail message.
"Something did not feel right," she remembers.
When she opened the door, she said, "I remember looking at them and telling them, `No, tell me he's hurt, he's wounded, don't you dare tell me he's dead.' They hung their heads down. I so wanted that to be what they were telling me, that he was injured."
Hancock, 31, collapsed, sobbing.
Since the United States began the war in Iraq on March20, similar scenes have played out 52 times among families of Fort Campbell soldiers, mostly involving the 101st Airborne Division and its supporting units. As of Friday, 424 U.S. service members had died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq — 294 from hostile action.
Most recently, 17 members of the 101st were killed on Nov.15 when two Blackhawk helicopters collided over Mosul.
Michael Hancock was killed while on guard duty in Mosul and several armed Iraqis opened fire.
Upon hearing the news, Jeannie Hancock beat her fist against the wall, waking her four children, ages 10, 9, 7 and 3. "My little 3-year-old, Christopher, stomped through the house and said, `I'm going over there and bring my daddy back.' He's the only one who really doesn't understand," she said.
The rest of the morning was a daze. Hancock kept her children home but went to their school to talk with teachers and counselors. Then she stopped at a pancake house where she and her husband used to drink coffee. Hancock said the news was "devastation — everything in your life just crashes."
Dreading the Army's knock on the door
Eugene Acklin knows that feeling. He has heard the knock, too.
He turned on his porch light and looked out the peephole.
"I saw a soldier in a uniform," he said. "The first thing that came to my mind was that something had happened bad." The soldier didn't have to say a word. "I knew," Acklin said.
His grandson, Michael Acklin, a 25-year-old Louisville resident, was killed in the Blackhawk collision. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery, 101st Airborne Division. Eugene Acklin was asked to call Michael's parents. Then he and the soldier waited together until Michael and Dottie Acklin arrived so they could all hear the news together.
The Monday after the deadly Blackhawk collision — on a Saturday — Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general of the 101st, in a statement asked the Fort Campbell community to embrace "those who have lost loved ones in the fight to bring freedom and democracy to a long oppressed nation."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the 17 soldiers who were killed. ... The losses we suffered are almost beyond comprehension," he said.
"Our fallen comrades were friends and fellow soldiers with whom we had served and sacrificed, fought a tough enemy and helped a nation rebuild. The losses however will not cause us to falter or fail. To the contrary, these losses will lead us to redouble our efforts and drive on. If we are to continue making progress, and we have indeed made great progress, we must continue to move forward. We are resolved to do just that. The 101st suffered a terrible loss the night of the 15th and it may be that we will suffer more losses before we all return to Fort Campbell. However, every loss serves as a grim reminder of the need to remain determined, resolute and courageous in the fight in which we are engaged."
It was April when family members of Spc. Thomas A. Foley III of Dresden, Tenn., got the news they feared. Anetta Courtney of Dresden, Foley's grandmother, had nodded off to sleep when she heard a car coming up the driveway to her rural home.
Two Army officers came to the door. With two grandsons, Tommy and David Foley, both serving in Iraq, Anetta Courtney said she frantically asked them, "Which one? Just tell me which one?"
Foley's mother, Emily Darden, lives elsewhere in Dresden, so the family and soldiers waited until everyone was together. Thomas Foley, 23, assigned to B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 44th Defense Artillery Regiment, was killed near Iraq on April14 in a noncombat grenade explosion.
"He told us he was sorry," Anetta Courtney said of one of the officers. "They stayed for about 30 minutes and tried to comfort us. They were great. They came to Tommy's funeral and have been very good to work with his wife, Paulette, and her son, Logan.
"We are just trying to get our life back to normal now," Anetta Courtney said.
Army Chaplain Maj. David Giammona is one of the people trying to help grieving families return to normal. He has met with several families at Fort Campbell who lost soldiers in the most recent helicopter crashes. Everyone reacts differently, he said.
"You don't want it to happen," he said, "but in the military, you brace yourself for it and try to prepare."
When he meets with families, he said, "I do a lot of praying and reading the Bible."
He can identify somewhat with their experiences, he said, since his son, a Georgia National Guardsman, was injured in Iraq. He said military families always know in the back of their minds that a tragedy can happen.
The weekend after Michael Hancock was killed, Jeannie Hancock said, her family did things together to stay busy. They went out to eat and watched a movie.
Now, she said, she feels she is living a nightmare.
"I keep waiting to wake up. ... I wait for it to end and we will all be together again," she said. "Then I realize I am living a military family's worst nightmare."
Michael Hancock was in his second tour of duty at Fort Campbell. He had asked to return to the 101st Airborne from an assignment in Alaska in August and was shipped out to Iraq on Oct.1.
Hancock was the 25th soldier from Fort Campbell to die in the Iraqi theater. Since then there have been 27 more.
Hancock was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart. Army documents say he left his post to lead his men to safety after they came under attack while guarding a grain storage facility near Mosul. The citation said Hancock repelled an attack by overwhelming enemy forces when he was fatally wounded.
Jeannie Hancock said Petraeus, the commanding general from the 101st Airborne, called her from Iraq to offer condolences.
"He said he did not know Michael, but from everything he had heard he was a very good soldier," Hancock said. "He almost started crying on the phone with me."
Stress on families knows no boundaries
It isn't just the families who have suffered a loss of a loved one who are affected by the deaths. Some families at Fort Campbell say the toughest part of the deployment is not knowing the fate of their loved ones.
Leona Ferrell, coordinator of the Family Readiness Center at Fort Campbell, said she tries not to watch television news. "Last year, my husband was in Afghanistan and I watched the news day and night every single day — I didn't miss — and it made me crazy, so I try not to watch," she said.
"I know by seeing the news people outside Gate 4 that something has happened and then I'll watch. But, you can't — I have kids, our families go on and our daily lives go on — and you can't be upset all the time," she said. "We watch the news when something's happened so we're up to date when people call us and we'll know what to tell them and how to help them."
As word of an accident, ambush or helicopter crash moves through the post, waiting for word about the soldiers "is like somebody wanting to rip your heart out," said Phyllis Moreno of Oak Grove, whose husband, Antonio, is a sergeant serving near Mosul.
Corey Cole, 27, whose husband, Eric, is a specialist with the 101st, said she learned last week that Eric was supposed to have been on one of the helicopters that crashed Nov.15. Two members of his unit were onboard and were killed.
"My heart went to my stomach and I said to myself, `It's time for him to be home and be here seeing his children grow up,'" Cole said. The Coles have four children. The youngest, 5-month-old Dakota, was born after Eric was deployed.
"My biggest fear is that he could die and never have seen his son," Cole said.
For Moreno the hardest part of her day is putting her children to bed. "They ask, `When is daddy coming home?'" she said. "I tell them, `Soon.'"
Nine months into what is expected to be a yearlong deployment for the 101st, families left behind are preparing for the holidays and are worried about at the rising casualty list.
Ferrell, whose children are 21, 18 and 5, said she keeps her spirits up by believing that her husband will return. But the waiting is sometimes awful, she said. "We wait, every day."
"For Thanksgiving, we will charge full steam ahead. We are going to do the best we can. Every time we have a holiday, we take pictures, digital pictures. We pretend as if he's there."
Rise in deaths takes a toll on morale
But Farrell said she believes morale among military families has fallen.
"The units can only tell us so much, and we know they can only tell us so much," she said. "We get our strength from our friends and the other people who are going through the same thing we are going through."
Michael and Jeannie Hancock talked online for the last time on Oct.21.
"We said that we loved each other and he couldn't wait to get home," she said.
Hancock said she now spends her days collecting paperwork for the Army casualty officer assigned to assist her in obtaining benefits. And she said the family will soon begin attending counseling.
Seven-year-old Ashley still draws pictures for her father. "She writes on them, `I love you dad' and I tell her he is a guardian angel looking over her," Jeannie Hancock said.
And for other spouses who lose a soldier, she said, "They will never get over it; they will have to live with it." Hancock said she has begun attending family support groups for her late husband's unit.
"Some people tell me that I am their inspiration because I am so strong," she said. "I tell them I'm not that strong. It's just a front. What hurts most is when you're laying there in your bed at night by yourself. It's OK when they're deployed, it's OK when they're in the field because you know where they are. But when you know they have gone on, it hurts."
As Iraq deaths mount, grief surrounds Fort Campbell
BY MARY ANN GERTH, THE COURIER-JOURNAL
"I remember ... telling them, `No, tell me he's hurt, he's wounded, don't you dare tell me he's dead.' They hung their heads down," Jeannie Hancock said of learning about the death of her husband, Sgt. Michael Hancock. "I so wanted ... that he was injured."
The Hancocks took this family photo in 1996. Clockwise, from left, Jeannie, holding baby Ashley, James, Michael and Amber. Their 3-year-old had not been born.