About 60 Army reservists from North Idaho and Spokane were assured Saturday that their deployment to Iraq on Monday represents the “bedrock” of the American republic.
“This is not a group of people who have been picked up off the street and sent off to war,” Maj. Gen. Lawrence Johnson told the citizen-soldiers and families assembled at the McCarter Army Reserve Center in Hayden Lake, Idaho.
The departure ceremony, one of several events Saturday for the reservists and their families, was “bittersweet,” said Lt. Col. Michael Hoxie, who commands B Company of the deploying 321st Engineer Battalion.
The men – no women in this front-line combat outfit – were proud to serve, but sad to leave their loved ones for 1 1/2 years, Hoxie said.
The soldiers assembled at Hayden Lake were among approximately 350 members of the 321st Engineer Battalion who will head to the Middle East on Monday. They will be joined by others from Wisconsin and Georgia for a total deployment of some 610 men, Johnson said.
No one needed to point out the gravity of Saturday’s farewell. The primary mission of the Boise-based 321st is to clear away roadside bombs and to guard convoys.
Unlike other soldiers, Hoxie said, his men have special training and equipment to protect them from roadside bombs. That was small comfort to wives.
Kathy Dale wished her husband, First Sgt. Scott Dale, were a “paper pusher” instead of a bomb specialist.
“Their job is very scary,” she said.
Coeur d’Alene resident Amber Deahn, 25, had a strollerful of reasons to lament the first deployment of her husband, 26-year-old Pfc. Nathan Deahn. In a tandem stroller were 2-year-old Maria and 10-month-old James.
Aside from becoming a “single mother with two young kids,” Amber Deahn said she’ll be deprived of her husband’s support if she has to testify against Joseph Edward Duncan III, a convicted child molester accused of killing a local family.
Amber Deahn was the waitress who helped police capture Duncan when she and three others spotted him in a Coeur d’Alene restaurant last year with then-8-year-old Shasta Groene.
Duncan allegedly kidnapped Shasta and her 9-year-old brother, Dylan, from their Coeur d’Alene-area home six weeks earlier, in May 2005, after killing their mother, Brenda Kay Groene, their 13-year-old brother, Slade, and their mother’s boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, with a hammer.
Duncan is also accused of sexually molesting the kidnapped children and killling Dylan at a remote Montana camp site.
Now Amber Deahn must think about the possibility of death touching her own family. She said she’ll cringe when her telephone or doorbell rings.
She wishes her husband didn’t plan to sign up for another three- or six-year hitch in the Army Reserves in September.
“I joined to serve my country, so as long as they need me …” Nathan Deahn said.
“As much as I hate it, I will support him,” Amber Deahn replied.
Kathy Dale said she also is struggling with her husband’s deployment, even though it is his second posting to Iraq. The first was for five months during Operation Desert Storm in 1990 – when she was 20, newly married and childless.
Now the couple has two sons, ages 14 and 11, and a daughter, 8.
“For me, this deployment has been very hard,” Kathy Dale said. “I think a lot of it is the emotions of the kids.”
While coping with her own concerns, Dale supports other “Bravo Company” wives as coordinator of the unit’s Family Readiness Group. She advises staying away from news reports, and telling husbands everything is going well at home.
Aside from the stress of combat, many reservists worry about the financial security of their families. Dale said she and her husband are lucky to have his brother, Walter Dale, to look after the Spokane land-surveying company the two men operate.
Staff Sgt. Jacob Kammers, who got married July 1, said he is fortunate to work for a construction firm that is highly supportive of reservists. Such companies are “few and far between,” he said.
Although he lives in the Coeur d’Alene area, Kammers is one of six soldiers from the Spokane-based 659th Engineer Battalion being deployed with the 321st. His job is to make sure the other men from his battalion are “on the same sheet of music” as their new comrades.
“It’s a big deal,” Kammers said. “You’ve got to rely on them to save your life, and you don’t know them from Adam.”
Kammers said he makes a point of getting to know the families of his men in case he has to deliver bad news.
“I make sure that all my soldiers write home,” Kammers added. “It’s a mandatory thing.”
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