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.

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.