Whether you support the war in Iraq or not, all can appreciate the sacrifice that our soldiers go through in serving their country. What we sometimes forget is the sacrifice made by those they leave behind. The Utah National Guard 115th Maintenance Company was recently deployed to serve in the Middle East leaving behind wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and grandchildren who are learning how to survive without them.
Those from Tooele County include Deon Ayala, George C. Joaquin, John Tritt, William Ross, Robert Ruiz and Floyd Erickson. The company, which departed at the end of January, is now in Texas preparing for their assignment to the Middle East.
At home their wives and families are fighting their own battles.
Heidi Ross had to say goodbye to her father-in-law, William Ross, on Jan. 31 as he departed with the rest of his National Guard Company. For the Ross family it was saying goodbye to dad and grandpa. Heidi and her husband Duane have four children, James who is 14, Todd 11, Kaitlyn 7, and Callie 2.
Heidi says it has been hard on all of them, especially the kids. “I’d like to say it’s fine, but it’s not,” she said. “Him being gone is never far from our thoughts. The kids miss Grandpa and they write him letters and we send emails. Everyone waits for his Sunday night call.”
William’s wife passed away when Duane was only three, and his second wife died in 1997. What is especially difficult for Heidi is trying to help William’s mother deal with the departure. “Dad’s mother is 84 and she is deaf. Trying to help her deal with him being gone isn’t easy.”
Although William has had a career as a full time National Guard for the last 30 years, Heidi said he has always been sent to places that were less volatile than the Middle East. “Since we moved here from Texas in June 2000, he has been gone more than he has been home; but, it has always been to Germany or other bases in the U.S.,” she stated. “Before that he has been in Japan, Europe and Germany.”
Of course all the families deal with some fear. Heidi said her biggest fear is that he won’t come home or that the unit will suffer losses. “If one is killed, the whole unit suffers. They are buddies. They put their lives in each others hands, any loss hurts.”
Heidi went on to say she is grateful for the fact she has her husband to talk to about her fears. “We are each other’s sounding board. I can’t imagine what the other wives are going through. It’s hard when it’s Grandpa. For them, it’s their husbands, the other half of them.”
A schoolteacher at East Elementary, Heidi said her school has adopted the 115th and writes them letters. “Classes write them every month, and if we find a need for the families, we try to do something about it. The support of the children roars loudly. We hope our letters remind the guys why they are fighting, brighten their day and help them pass the days faster.”
One of Heidi’s biggest concerns is the lack of support for the troops in Iraq by the people of the United States. “I believe this is because most aren’t affected by the war,” said Heidi. “During World War II people had rationing, victory gardens, couldn’t get luxury items … businesses backed the war, and everyone believed in what we were doing. On 9/11 we were bombed and thousands died — no difference, except the media reports the negative and no one has to suffer at home, except the soldiers’ families.”
She went on to add that her hopes for the future are that the unit all has a very “boring” time and comes home safely to resume their lives. “I hope they are able to tell their children and grandchildren that they helped others in another country and why supporting war and soldiers is our duty as citizens of a free nation.”
Melissa Fields is missing her fiance, Sergeant Robert Ruiz, and it’s “only been a little over a month,” she adds.
Yet she sees a deeper meaning behind the sacrifice.
“It is because of brave men like my fiancee and the fine men and women in the 115th that serve and protect our country that I have numerous freedoms like expression, voting, choosing my own religion, and having a right to voice my opinions and concerns in public. If our country wasn’t founded on freedom I would most likely not be able to express myself like I’m doing now,” she wrote.
As a result she describes herself as a combination of “emotional and very grateful at the same time.”
While she isn’t out fighting with him she prays for him from home.
“I pray for him and his troop to have clear minds, to know what to do and to be ready to react, when in training and combat,” said Fields. “…. I hope that the Middle East gains a clear understanding that our men and women are over there to help them rebuild their government and country and rid them and us of dangers from the Taliban regime. I pray one day that the U.S. and the Middle East will be allies.”
Still, she has a lot of responsibilities herself at home. She works as Media and Events Coordinator for USANA Health Sciences, the same company her fiance had previously worked for. He had quit with the intent to attend Utah State full-time just prior to receiving his orders. With Ruiz gone their plans are pushed back and she handles both of their bills and taxes. She appreciates the support Grantsville City has provided in helping families of soldiers deployed with water utilities.
“I’m going to take one day at a time and do the best I can with the situation I’m in. The soldiers are making a bigger adjustment and are in worse circumstances than I am, so I feel like their sacrifice is the ultimate.”
Floyd Erickson and his wife Becky have four children, Jennifer, 20, Joshua, 18, Chad, 13 and Jessica who is six. Floyd has served in the National Guard for 15 years. Having served in a stint in Desert Storm, up until now the longest he has ever been away is for three weeks.
Floyd and Becky both work at the Tooele Army Depot and have been told that Floyd’s job will be waiting for him when he returns.
What is really hard to deal with while her husband is away is, “teenagers,” said Becky.
“You know these men and women are sacrificing a lot. I don’t know what would be harder — being left at home with a family of small children, or teenagers. Neither are an easy task and I’m sure I would have been devastated if he had of gone when all of our children were young. However, right now is such a crucial time to have a father leave, especially their teenage sons,” she added.
Right now, the Ericksons are still learning to adjust with the change of their father and husband being gone. “We are surviving for now. I think we are still all in shock a little bit,” said Becky.
When asked how long her husband would be gone, Becky commented, “18 months or 545 days, until July 31, 2006.”
A lot of things happen in 545 days as Becky said, “He will be missing out on a lot as far as seeing his oldest son graduate from high school and seminary as well as being there for when the first two members of his Scout Troop receive their Eagle Scout Awards. He’ll be gone when his son puts in his paperwork for his mission, and hopefully he will be able to make it home just prior to when his son will be leaving on his mission.”
Although she isn’t happy about her husband leaving, she is, “very proud of him as well as all our men and women serving and sacrificing their lives.”
George and Pamela Joaquin, who have been married for just one and a half years, will spend the next one and a half years apart. The shock of having her husband pulled away from her to serve his country has been difficult.
“I am going through the motions,” said Pamela. “My husband and I are very close, we did everything together. I’m separated from my husband and best friend.”
George was in the process of adopting Pamela’s sevenyear- old son, Austin, when he was called up. Before he left, however, they were able to secure all the papers necessary so the adoption could go through, despite his being out of the country. Pamela commented that they worked with a nice judge, who made it possible.
“He is the best dad to Austin,” said Pamela of George. “My biggest challenge (with him gone) is working and taking care of our son by myself.”
George, who has been on active duty for the military, joined the National Guard about a year ago. He works at Deseret Chemical Depot, which is a federal job so, as Pamela stated, “We don’t have to worry about his position. It will be waiting for him once he returns.”
Pamela’s greatest fear is that her husband’s unit will be attacked while doing their job.
“I try to stay busy and not think about it,” she added. “I concentrate on our son and wait for e-mails or phone calls from my husband. The biggest thing is to stay busy and have a good support group.”
The things they talk about on the phone are mostly positive, said Pamela. “Any problems are discussed in e-mails or letters.”
Although the two had planned a relaxing vacation in their motor home for the summer, Pamela said she is willing to wait because she believes in what her husband is doing.
“I completely support my husband in this war,” she stated. “If we do not stop terrorism, Sept. 11 could happen again and again. It could be our country that has car bombs killing people every day.”
Although they have only been married a short time, Pamela isn’t concerned about their being apart, “My husband and I will both grow, we have a close relationship and this will strengthen it,” she said.
Note: At the time this article went to press, the Ross family was notified that their grandfather might be sent home due to back problems. They are holding their collective breath as the information changes with each phone call.