Staff SGT Donald Wayne West, Jr., enlisted in the United States Army National Guard on September 11, 2001. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Company A of the 150th Combat Engineers served active duty Aug 29, 2004, until Dec 30, 2005. SSGT West returned to college in January, 2006. He married Lauren Ritchie June 9, 2006, at Seaside, Fla., and they have three children. SSGT West completed military service at Camp Minden, LA on Aug 23, 2009.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Day 47 - A Soldier's Heart, another PBS Special

As the War in Iraq continues, the first measures of its psychological toll are coming in. A U.S. Army study estimates that more than one in six returning veterans are suffering from major depression, anxiety, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For those who have survived the fighting, the battle is not over. For some, the return home can be as painful as war itself. FRONTLINE tells the stories of soldiers who have come home haunted by their experiences and asks whether the government is doing enough to help.

Although as many as five out of six soldiers return home healthy, information like this can help focus our prayers now to cover the particular stresses faced by some of our soldiers who have put their lives in harm's way on our behalf.

The PBS special airs Tuesday, March 1 at 8 p.m. CST. For more information, see:

(Photo courtesy of
 Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Day 46 - Broken Links

Sorry, we didn't realize until today some of our hyperlinks were broken. Hopefully, we've got them fixed. If you visited lately, and found a broken link, please try again. They should be working now. Posted by Hello

Day 46 - A Salute to Our Heroes

Just in case you didn't watch the Superbowl commercials, here's one worth repeating:
 Posted by Hello

Day 46 - Paper, Rock, Scissors??

Jonathan Prewitt smiles with a Victory sign for his family and friends back home.

The hand sign indicating victory, solidarity, or approval, is formed by holding the raised index and middle fingers in the shape of a V while the remaining fingers are clenched. Generally considered a "Victory" sign, it can also carry connotations of "Peace" and "Defiance".

In the UK, if the hand is held out, palm towards the person performing the gesture, this is sometimes considered to be highly insulting, similar in severity to the "one-fingered salute."

In Asia, the gesture is often used by persons posing in photographs, with no necessary particular meaning.

For more information, see: Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Day 45 - Lookin' for Lunch in All the Wrong Places

Standing in front of the microwave and hot plate, Cpt. Cager confesses, "I don't know. Last time I saw West he was looking for something else to eat!"  Posted by Hello

Friday, February 25, 2005

Day 44 - Up in Arms

SFC Smith and SSg Riley, standing in front of Black Watch Battle Group shield, "Nemo me impune lacessit."

Literally translated, "No one provokes me with impunity," the phrase is the Latin motto of the Order of the Thistle, the Scottish chivalrous order. It also appears on the Scottish royal arms, and is the motto of the Royal Scots and Black Watch regiments of the British Army.

Edgar Allan Poe references the motto in his classic story, "The Cask of Amontillado".

According to legend, the "guardian thistle" has played its part in the defense of the ancient realm of Scotland against a night attack by the Danes, one of whom let out a yell of pain when he stepped on a prickly thistle, thus alerting the Scottish defenders.

In the original motto, "me" was therefore originally the thistle itself, but by extension now refers to the Scottish crown and the Scottish regiments which have adopted it. Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Day 43 - Heavy Metal

 Posted by Hello

Family members and friends crowded by the thousands onto the parade ground at Camp Shelby in December, saluting members of the 155th Brigade Combat Team as they completed training for deployment to Iraq. We support the Army's efforts to provide adequate equipment to protect our soldiers who 'face the enemies of the United States as watchmen on the walls of freedom.'

Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, Mississippi's adjutant general, said members of the 155th would have the best equipment and training available to carry out their mission.

"You'll have every vehicle 100 percent armored that rolls with you from Kuwait to Iraq," he told the assembled troops.

Lt. Gen. Steven Whitcomb, commander of Third U.S. Army, said in a news briefing, "I'm comfortable that [the vehicles] have adequate protection for their mission."

Level I armor is the protection put on at the factory. Known in military parlance as the up-armored Humvee, it has bulletproof glass in all windows and armor protection all around. There are about 6,600 of these Humvees now in Iraq.

Level II armor is a factory produced add-on package that provides protection for the windows, sides, front and back. The tops and bottoms of the vehicles are not armored. About 10,800 of these Humvees and trucks are in Iraq.

Level III armor consists of steel plates welded to the sides of vehicles. About 2,000 of these are in Iraq. The 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart took 900 Humvees to Iraq with Level III armor that was provided by the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany.

Whitcomb said eventually all military wheeled vehicles in Iraq will have Level I or Level II armor.

Level III, he said, "is better than nothing but it's a bridge to get to the other stuff."

Two facilities in Kuwait and eight in Iraq are working around the clock to provide the additional armor.

(quoted from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, 2/25/05)

Day 43 - Kawabunga, Dude!

Today's model, Spc. Wayne West, sporting the latest in cool-weather desert fashions. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Day 42 - Ellen J. Walker, Soldier's Angel Commander

Ellen J. Walker, Hot Springs' original Soldier's Angel, officially adopted Wayne during the Christmas holidays.  Posted by Hello

In a characteristically maternal message to her children, she writes in an email:

"At a time when some of our media is so corrupt, to the point of broadcasting blatant lies, it behooves us all to try to find out for ourselves what the truth is about conditions, morale, etc. I urge you to take this journey with us and to adopt Wayne as "your man in Iraq." When you are taking a shower or driving to work or having your beer or glass of wine, as the end of your day...just send him good wishes and then ask our heavenly Father to protect him from harm. These small acts of caring will bless Wayne and you, as well.

One day, when Wayne has returned and is here visiting, I hope that he will come sit at the bar and see his picture and know that he wasn't on his journey alone. I want him to know that I appreciate his putting his life on the line to defend our homeland. He must have had to face his deepest fears and that, in itself, will be a blessing to his character in his years to come."

Would that the world were full of Angels like Ellen! Earlier today, she organized a packing brigade as the culmination to weeks of collecting "care package" supplies for soldiers of Alpha Company, 150th Combat Engineers.

Day 42 - Company of Soldiers' Angels Appreciated!

Today, Hot Springs "Soldiers' Angels" packed 23 boxes of goodies headed to Wayne's World for distribution in Iraq.

(L to R) Bill Walker, Ellen Webb, Ellen Walker, Gayle Barns, Pat and Paul Woodward. (Not pictured: Sandra Malone) Posted by Hello

The note from Wayne which follows is for all of you that helped us pull this off. Those 23 boxes were filled with snacks and toiletries, but they also held your love and compassion and oh, how that is appreciated. I am sending all your names to Rebecca to pass on to the guys. We are still receiving paperbacks, money for postage, etc....and I'm thinking it would be fun to get together and make the guys some cookies and send them all at once. After all, there are 100 of them and if you had kids, you know how fast cookies go. We also have some more boxes, so if you have anything more, let me know...

Just want to say one thing regarding the hesitancy that some people feel about doing anything at all to support this war. I want you to understand that this is not a political movement, it is an act of kindness to kids who are far away from home and whose days are brighter because they know that people back home have enough heart to remember them. If your son or daughter were there, wouldn't you appreciate it? I know I would.

This will be an ongoing effort until they are able to get a mobile PX in their area, so jump in anytime. As soon as things calm down for Bill and I, you will be receiving a Soldiers' Angels party invite. We want to thank you in person and be sure you meet Rebecca and Myron and perhaps Lauren, Wayne's fiancee. And, we'll do it again to welcome him home.

Again, many, many thanks for your support,

Mrs. Walker,

This is Wayne West. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate all the effort you put into getting all that stuff for my company. I know the guys will be thankful too. Not having any lunch can be rough some times. We're all trying to do whatever we can to keep from losing weight, so thank you tremendously for everything you've done.

I look forward to meeting you when I come home for my two week leave. You might even get to meet my fiance. I have sent mom a couple of pictures from out here. The computers take, what seem like decades, to attach a picture. Although I'm not able to send too many, the ones she has, I'm sure she'd be glad to share them with you.

Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope you have a fantastic day!

Day 42 - "A Company of Soldiers," PBS Special

Over 30 days and 26 missions, the story of the men of Dog Company--the Army's 1-8 Cavalry Regiment stationed in South Baghdad on the bank of the Tigris River. The final battle for Iraq will be won in places like this by soldiers like these.

Bradley Graham speaks with Lt. Col. John Allen, Capt. Jason Whiteley and others in the 1-8 Cavalry for this Washington Post story in which he writes, "Switching from kindness to killing and back, sometimes within minutes or hours, is a strange experience for many U.S. soldiers here. It results from fighting a tenacious insurgency while trying to win over a population and build a new nation." (Dec. 4, 2004)

Available now for viewing online at:

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Day 41 - Busted Again!

An explosive ordnance disposal soldier from the 155th Brigade Combat Team, serving under the I Marine Expeditionary Force, prepares munitions, which were uncovered southwest of Baghdad, for controlled detonation on Feb. 16. Photo by: Official U.S. Army Photo
 Posted by Hello

Friday, February 18, 2005

Day 37 - Honoring Spc. Joseph A Rahaim and Sgt. Timothy Osbey

Phone lines and internet connections have been quiet again, this time out of respect for the families of Spc. Joseph A Rahaim and Sgt. Timothy Osbey. We join all the others who ask God to comfort the families and friends of these brave soldiers whose sacfrifices help preserve the cause of freedom around the world.
 Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Day 36 - Good Company

SFC Arthur and Wayne at Camp Shelby. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Day 35 - Commander's Corner

To Friends and Families of the Mississippi Rifles:

Most of the battalion have moved to our position in Iraq. Many moved forward early January and almost everyone else moved forward late January and early February.

Everyone is doing fine. Our soldiers have adjusted to the environment and are doing a great job. Many of soldiers conducted missions during the elections by providing security at key sites. I flew back to Kuwait and moved our convoy forward about the same time period. We made it with little problems.

For security reasons, I cannot provide our exact location, except to say the Anti-Iraqi Forces are active here. There is not so much activity now as it was when I was here in October, but this is still a dangerous area. We are out conducting daily missions to improve the stability of this region. You should be proud of what our soldiers are doing. On January 30, 2005, Iraq held its first free election, and our soldiers were a part of this historical event.

We will continue to improve our living conditions as time goes. The mail will start running in a few days, so that should not be an issue. We are going to improve our Internet capability and phones, so we can communicate to you on a regular basis.

I will continue to update everyone on our website and through e mails. Thank you for your continued support.

LTC John Rhodes
1-155 IN BN

Day 35 - Holiday Hugs for Valentine's Day

Wayne and Lauren during the Holidays. Posted by Hello

Day 35 - Love in the Lingerie Store

Stuck on a different continent from her man on Valentine’s Day, Lauren was lingering over lingerie at Victoria’s Secret when she heard the sales staff giggling.

“I know it sounds a little weird,” she told me, beginning her disclaimer, “but I really was buying something for my sister when I realized the old guy causing all the raucous in the store was a well-known dentist from Shreveport. I mean, it was pretty obvious from the big, perfect smile he had going on.”

“Anyway,” she continued, now giggling herself, “he was buying lingerie for his wife’s Valentine’s present. By the time I got to the register, I heard him telling everybody how marriage is supposed to get better and better each year.”

Feeling more separated than ever, Lauren quietly slipped her selection onto the counter, hoping to escape the syrupy sermon with a quick check-out.

“I guess he saw my promise ring,” she explained, “because he asked what my man was doing for me on Valentine’s Day. When I told him Wayne was in Iraq, the guy breaks into this daddy/preacher mode and says, ‘Well, bless his heart. We’ll just pray for him right now. You do believe in Jesus, don’t you?”

“As soon as I said, ‘Yes, sir, I do,” he starts praying! Right there at the counter of Victoria’s Secret! Well, I started bawling.”

Lauren accepted the dentist’s fatherly hug as she wiped away her tears.

“You know Psalm 91?” the dentist asked. “It says, ‘He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty.’ You can say of the Lord, ‘He is Wayne’s refuge and his fortress, his God, in whom you both can trust.’ Read the rest of it when you get home, and pray it over Wayne.”

Lauren’s tears flooded her cheeks again.

“That’s exactly what I was reading in my Bible this morning,” she confirmed.

“See there?” the dentist answered. “This trip to Victoria’s Secret was a divine appointment scheduled by God to give you strength and hope, and to let you know how very much He loves both you and Wayne. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Day 34 - Newton's Law

Wayne Newton and Wayne West entertaining the troops at the USO Show held at the National Training Center in California. Posted by Hello

Lauren and Wayne enjoying the Wayne Newton USO Show at Camp Shelby just before Christmas break. Posted by Hello

Monday, February 14, 2005

Day 33 - Today's Battle Tip: Obedience

"When it's in your best interest, practice obedience."
Today's Battle Tip brought to you by Nadda Weeney. Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Day 32 - Coping with Quiet

Lauren’s parents walked in from their Valentine’s weekend date Saturday night to find pots and pans scattered around the kitchen.

“What’s all this?” they asked.

“I made pancakes for the family,” Lauren replied.

“Well, where are they?” the couple queeried.

“I ate them all,” she answered, sheepishly.

Ever since Wayne's unit moved to their current location, our phones have been silent. For the last couple of days, the internet has sat still. No emails. No instant messages.

Despite our need to hear something, news broadcast from the area tested our faith, and left us calling only each other.

When we finally did talk to Wayne today, he had just returned from a church service attended by a total of five soldiers. No Sunday lunch, either, except trail mix and a couple of power bars.

"Noon meals are never part of the menu at this resort location," Wayne reminded me, suggesting tuna pouches, beef jerky and other protein-rich food as favorite items to include in care packages.

Tonight, soldiers are invited to begin a weekly Bible study focused on “The Purpose Driven Life.”

To help relieve stress, stay in shape and pass the time, Wayne says the guys have improvised a workout area.

“We have wooden pull-up and dip bars which we use sort of like the monkey bars we played on as kids,” he explained. “We hang upside down by our knees, then pull up our chests to work our abs. We’ve gotten especially creative using sandbags as weights to exercise our shoulders and backs.”

Work days begin after 7 a.m. wake-up, followed by breakfast-from-a-box. Cold-water showers are limited to three minutes.

“They don’t have a timer or anything,” he explains. “There is a shower monitor, but it’s mostly a matter of personal integrity to preserve the limited amount of water on base.”

Wayne describes most of his daily activities as ways to improve security around the FOB.

“When I’m not doing that, I’m either reading, journaling, working out or talking on the internet, which is free here.”

Voice-over-internet connections were fairly consistent this morning, interrupted only by occasional skips in delivery.

The troops are now preparing for their second memorial service, this time honoring the memory of Spc Robert Allen McNail, a Bravo Company soldier who was killed Friday in a non-hostile vehicle accident.

Day 32 - Honoring SPC Robert Allen McNail

Internet connections were suspended the last several days out of respect for the family of SPC Robert Allen McNail, who served as a member of Bravo Company, 150th Engineer Batallion.

The McCormicks join other members of the 150th sharing our prayers for the families of SPC McNail and SFC Cooley, two soldiers who gave their ultimate sacrifice last week. Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Day 31 - "Where's the Plain Ol' Milk??"

Sgt. Chaney assuring Wayne he'll help find something besides banana and strawberry-flavored milk to go on his cereal! Posted by Hello

Day 31 - "Food? Where?!"

"Did somebody say it was time to eat?" Posted by Hello

Day 31 - $7.70 Flat Rate Postage and Best Rate Calling Cards

Today's mailing tip from Wayne's sister, Nikki:

Priority mail flat rate boxes are now available through the US Postal Service. You can cram up to 70 pounds of stuff into them for only $7.70. As long as you are mailing more than a pound, it is much more economical to use the flat rate box. You can order the free boxes at

You will have to fill out a customs report. Do not list tobacco, alcohol, or porn on the list. Also, I would recommend leaving off anything of value. Food, candy, books. etc., OK.

Military calling cards are available online for $39.95 (550 units). These ATT Global Calling cards were negotiated with the military at a bulk contract rate. Added value includes being able to replenish minutes by phone with debit or credit card.

Stacy Lee recommended purchasing calling cards cards from Segovia, a satellite communications company. Cards purchased through the Segovia website are calculated at only $.04 a minute. These cards also carry the option to be replenished automatically when the balance falls below $5.00.

To purchase ATT Global Calling cards:

To purchase Segovia Satellite phone cards:

To request free phone cards:

Day 31 - 150th Relatives Huddle Here

You'll find lots and lots of family members sharing information about the 150th EN BN troops in this forum:

Friday, February 11, 2005

Day 30 - Zip Codes in Iraq

Several discussion boards have requested accurate zip code information for Iraq:

Day 30 - Color My World

Picture of "our bunch" sent from Iraq, as posted on 150th EN BN web site:
 Posted by Hello

Have a great weekend! You guys are the BEST! Posted by Hello

Day 30 - Sharing the Dream

Powerful images to help keep things in perspective:

Day 30 - Friendly Faces Reminder

No shortage of smiles from this crew: Lauren, Wayne, Mrs. Bacon (aka Police Officer Bacon!) and Patrick Bacon at Camp Shelby just prior to deployment. Posted by Hello

Day 30 - Care Package Ideas

Military family members reported this web site as a valuable resource for ideas what to include in care packages:

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Day 29 - No PX (Postal Exchange)

Friends and Family,

Our base camp does not have a Post Exchange. This is where we need your help. Please send us care packages of snacks, toilet items, sun tan lotion, and reading material. This will help us greatly. We hope to have a mobile PX come to our location weekly, but it will take some time before we can get this established.

The morale of everyone is high. These soldiers came here to do a job, and they are performing this task superbly. I am proud of everyone. We already have soldiers conducting missions in Iraq now, and they doing great. Every soldier has accepted the present conditions and continues to do his assigned tasks. It is an honor to command such a great unit. You should be proud of what they are doing and what they represent.

I thank each of you for your contributions and support. I will continue to update you on a regular basis.

Thank you again.
LTC John Rhodes
1-155 IN BN
 Posted by Hello

Day 29 - Take a Knee, Drink Water and Pull Security

We’ve received comments from several soldiers the last few days. This one is from a father in our church who has nearly completed his year with the Guard in Iraq:

It's strange...seems like every time I write I start off with "it's strange"...but war is strange (thank God). I couldn't imagine one of my children being here. Yet it's okay for me to be here...because "I know what I'm doing"!

Anyway, I was hoping Wayne would not be initiated so soon, but I guess it's best. I remember all too well...

...We had parked in the gravel lot outside the "In-processing" building at a certain place. I had just finished eating an MRE, as had my men. Suddenly, we heard an explosion and saw a plume of smoke about 100 meters in the direction of 4:00 as you face the entrance.

"Hmmm, that was kind of close," I thought to myself. Just then, a second one landed. This time, I heard the casing crack and actually saw the beginning of the was that close! That's when I figured it was for real!

I ran to my HMMWV to grab my body armor as I yelled to the men to get their "shit" on. (It just doesn't convey the same feeling without the graphic language.) Three more landed before I could get everyone inside the building to wait out the attack.

Long story short: About 12 mortar rounds landed within 100 meters of us. We all escaped injury, but the attack injured over 100 prisoners and killed more than 20.

When I returned to my FOB and my room I wrote to my two youngest children, asking them to pray that we could catch the bad guys. I intended to write to all four children, but by the time I got through the first two letters, my eyes were sweating so profusely, the paper became too wet to write on. Besides that, I was so emotional I couldn't think straight. That experience changed me.

I say all this because it is so obvious how close you are to Wayne, and he to you. This is tough to say...but he will have to suck it up and drive on for the next twelve months. I have a strong feeling he will lean heavily on you and his new bride-to-be.

Just be open and honest with him, and encourage him to be open and honest with you. Encourage him to tell you how he REALLY feels when "bad shit" happens. It will help him to deal with it in the future, and to not be cowered by fear. He will be afraid, but there is a difference in being able to go on in spite of the fear versus being stuck by it, unable to move.

I think it has to do with coming to the realization 'when it's your time; it's your time,' and just doing your job until that time comes. It could come just as easily at home in bed, or in a car, or crossing the street, as it can on the battlefield. It's knowing in a whole new way that you belong to God and "your life" isn't "yours." It's His.

All you can really do is take a knee, drink water, and pull security!

Here’s another note from a Louisiana soldier, almost ready for his leave:

Just checked out your web site. It's nice. And your son is right...the phone center IS the most important thing on ANY base. That, plus when the mail comes. It's like Christmas all over again! I guess I'll turn in for the night. Have to be up in about six hours. Will be flying out whenever the weather lets up. Has been raining here for two weeks. Last I was told, this area was about to get the worst storm it has had in 35 years. Well the soon I get to (the next location), the sooner I will see my mom. THAT'S RIGHT...MY MOM. She has been in the active guard for a little over twenty years. And get this...I'm the only child.

Day 29 - Honoring SFC Sean Cooley

Here’s a portion of an email Lauren shared today. Wayne actually sent it the day they arrived at their current location:

We had a memorial service today for a soldier in Bravo Company who ran over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and was killed the day before I came. They had (created) a little set-up with his weapon, his boots, his helmet and a big 8x10” picture of him… "He was a great soldier, a great American, a great friend, a husband, a father, etc."

I couldn’t take it.

Lauren, I am so grateful for every day God allows me to live under the same sky as you, to breath the same air, and to know the powerful feeling of being so deeply in love. It’s like a spear in my heart every time I think about being 7500 miles away…

Another mother forwarded this link yesterday, which is well worth 120 seconds. My favorite shots are the soldiers reading their letters:

***2/11/05 KALSU,IRAQ Troops honor fallen comrade, SFC Sean Cooley:
***2/13/05 JACKSON, MS - SFC Cooley Buried:

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Day 27 - Happy Mardi Gras!

John Servis, trainer for last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Smarty Jones, is back in Hot Springs at Oaklawn Park. This season, he's gearing up Rockport Harbor, another speedy and unbeaten colt, to inherit the spotlight. Tonight, John and his wife, Sherry (R), joined Sister Claudia, principal of St. John's Catholic School, in wishing Happy Mardi Gras to Alpha Company of 150th Engineer Batallion.
 Posted by Hello