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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Day 223 - Day of Prayer in Louisiana

Nearly 3000 soldiers from Mississippi’s 155th Armored Brigade deployed to Iraq with Wayne last January. Many soldiers left behind have now been activated for disaster relief.

Mississippi military families are flooding online discussion boards with frantic posts-- mostly looking for relatives, friends and neighbors.
yeah they are saying that there is 2 more hurricanes coming our way, this is the worst year ever for storms and our guys are so depressed because they can not be here with their families and also to help, but i seen some 155th guys at walmart tonight that said they will be leaven at 3:30am in the morning to go to Gulfport to help with everything. it seems like everything has fallen apart since our hubbies have left

Damage to coastal areas (video) is catastrophic. Lieutenant Colonel Gary Huffman, stationed with Mississippi soldiers in Iraq says, “As of now, I know I have at least 3 soldiers whose homes are completely destroyed. Others who live in the area have not been able to contact families.”

Officials are now assessing flood damage to Army bases in Biloxi and Hattiesburg.
Widespread flooding and hurricane-force winds damaged Keesler Air Foce Base in Biloxi and Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg. Keesler suffered extensive damage to base housing, training facilities and industrial areas from raging flood waters that were up to four feet deep. However, no injuries were reported at Keesler. Army officials were en route to Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, where power had been knocked out and felled trees and flooding had done significant damage. The base was not evacuated and no injuries have been reported at this time

Military families report more up-to-date news:
“It was not destroyed as some rumors have stated. There are trees down like everywhere else in the area. A good friend who lives just outside of CS (Camp Shelby) is fine also. Downed trees, Debris everywhere, but his home also is intact."

"There is no communication with CS at the moment. Except in rare cases, there is no comm anywhere south of Hattiesburg, and little between Hattiesburg and Jackson."

"Didn't want ya'll, especially ya'll up north who have soldiers mobilizing at Shelby to be afraid. Your soldier will call you asap. The cell towers work periodically, but they can call out only periodically. The land phones are out. SIL is able to use her cell every once-in-a while. Her husband's Army cell isn't working at all. I believe they can text message.

My sister who had a trailer in Hattiesburg is at my folks' home in Vicksburg, but hasn't been able to get in contact with anyone in the area. I guess we're all just gonna have to be patient, but it is difficult for those who don't know if their homes are still standing."

Meanwhile, Wayne is still on leave in north Louisiana, out of Katrina’s path.

In Monroe, LA, pastors from around the city are meeting at 3:00 this afternoon to brainstorm how to continue to provide 5,000 meals a day to the 1500 refugees camped out in the Civic Center. Our friends, Drs. George and Clarice Fluitt, have 19 refugees from New Orleans living in their home. When I asked what we could do to help, she replied, "Well, just imagine having 19 people arrive in your home with nothing but what's on their backs. On a real practical level, money for groceries would come in real handy right about now."

Also in Monroe, Wayne’s Aunt Janet, who recently organized a giant shoe drive for Iraqi children, has not yet heard from her brother, who was home in Slidell, LA, (photos) when Katrina invaded the state.

In Jackson, MS, Wayne's Uncle Blair says he is grateful the huge oak tree that fell into his backyard didn't fall onto their house, where the entire family sheltered from the storm.
Many schools and homes in Jackson are still without power. If they can find gasoline, Wayne's cousins, Kimbell and Blair Marie, will travel to their grandmother's house in Monroe today.

We join the people in Louisiana for this Day of Prayer, proclaimed by Governor Kathleen Blanco.
"As we face the devastation wrought by Katrina, as we search for those in need, as we comfort those in pain and as we begin the long task of rebuilding, we turn to God for strength, hope and comfort..Pray for the victims and the rescuers. Please pray that God give us all the physical and spiritual strength to work through this crisis and rebuild. Please pray for patience for those anxiously waiting to hear from family members or to get word about their homes. Pray for the safety of our hard-working rescuers and those they are bringing to safety...We can pull together and draw strength we need; strength, that only God can give us...Also thank God for the strong and resilient people of this state and how they are working to meet this challenge."

Monday, August 29, 2005

Day 222 - Home, Home on the Rangers

Summer school started again for Lauren today, but not before the newly engaged couple had a chance to take in a Texas Rangers baseball game in Dallas over the weekend.

“We strolled through the Highland Park Village shopping area late Saturday afternoon,” Wayne recounts. “Later that evening, we ate some great Mexican food while listening to live music.”

Officially welcomed home to Louisiana by his dad, Don West and his wife Brenda, Wayne was disappointed to learn his dog was run over and killed when he escaped the yard during a thunderstorm on Wayne's birthday last month.

This morning, Wayne hung out on the LSUS campus, reading emails in the library until Lauren emerged from her classes. The rest of his R&R schedule is still a work in progress. We’re all looking forward to our turn to visit with him.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

Day 220 - Officially Engaging Dallas!

“WE’RE ENGAGED!!” he shouted, rousing Myron and me with a midnight-ish phone call.

Wayne called last night from Nana’s restaurant atop the Wyndham Anatole in Dallas. For more than 20 years, the Anatole has been home to over 1000 rare and unusual treasures from the collection of Trammel and Margaret Crowe.

The restaurant is named for Nana, the wall-size portrait by Russian-Polish artist Suchorowsky. Visible from the bar perched atop the 27th floor of the hotel, the painting is a symbol for beauty and luxury. Nana's restaurant interprets her namesake's style with the elegant décor and innovative American cuisine for which it is famous. Often served to the graceful sounds of strolling violins, the chef’s signature seven-course dinner includes such delicacies as chestnut flour fried lobster and cinnamon-spiced roast duck.

“It was incredible,” Wayne said, describing the evening. “As soon as we walked in, everybody treated us like celebrities. We had a great table with a fabulous view of the city lights. All night long, we just talked and talked and talked.”
“We noticed the wait staff and restaurant personnel who kept walking by the table like they were looking for something,” Lauren chuckled. “I just thought ‘whatever!’“

“At the end our meal, the chef treated us to his famous bundt cake oozing with warm chocolate thick as caramel,” Wayne continued. “We sipped on dessert wine and talked some more. Eventually, I walked around to her side of the table, dropped to one knee, and proposed.”

“I was totally shocked!” Lauren interrupted. “Since I assumed Wayne didn’t have the ring, I just thought it wasn’t going to happen tonight. When I saw the ring, I just busted out crying! Then, after he told me he designed the ring and everything he went through to get the ring to Dallas, it made it even more special.”

While still in Iraq, Wayne designed the engagement ring online at Blue Nile, using their guidelines for selecting carat, cut, color and clarity. I forwarded the picture with his specifications Myron’s Louisiana friend who brokers jewelry.

Once the ring was built and purchased, Myron and I delivered it last weekend to Brooklyn Fleming, one of Lauren’s close friends who lives in Dallas. Brooklyn made arrangements to have the ring stored in a safe until Wayne could come pick it up.

In the mean time, I shipped Wayne’s suit to the home of a family with whom Lauren lived while she was working in Dallas last summer. The suit’s arrival didn’t raise any red flags because Wayne had already told Lauren he planned to take her out for a special dinner last night.

“Everything couldn’t have worked out more perfectly,” Wayne and Lauren agreed. “It was a memorable night we’ll treasure forever.”

We’re thrilled to welcome Lauren to our family. She is the daughter of Lynn and Jim Ritchie of Minden, LA, and has two brothers and a sister. Lauren is a senior marketing major at LSU in Shreveport.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Day 219 - The Eagle Has Landed

About 1:20 this morning, 400 soldiers landed at DFW Airport to begin their 15 days of rest and recuperation.

“I bet I didn’t sleep one hour during the entire 12-hour flight from Frankfort,” Wayne said when we talked to him at sun-up this morning. “After we landed, it seemed like it took forever to get through customs until I could go see my sweetie. As soon as I rounded the corner, Lauren was the first person I saw. I dropped everything, ran to meet her and lifted her off the ground. Everybody else started clapping, cheering and whistling. It was great.”

Wayne and Lauren will spend the next few days visiting extended family in Louisiana. Myron and I will see them after we return from Florida.
Last night, we bedded down in our ocean view room at Amelia Island Plantation. Located on 1350 acres, the AAA-Four Diamond property comprises three 18-hole championship golf courses & 23 clay tennis courts. It also features a health and fitness center, award-winning youth programs (run by a crackerjack director!) fine shops, a full service spa and excellent choices of dining options.

Myron is enjoying his first round of golf on the Ocean Links course. Later this afternoon, he'll squeeze in another nine holes at Oak Marsh.

I opted for a seaweed wrap and stress massage at the resort Spa. Tomorrow, we'll tell you much more about Wayne and more about what makes Amelia Island Plantation a unique resort, even though Wayne and Lauren are not here!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Day 217 - Video Clip 2 - Fighting Insurgency

A couple of days ago, WLBT-TV3 in Jackson, MS, reported on Alpha Company’s patrol missions. Last night, Mississippi moms told me about a follow-up story telling how soldiers of the 150th fight insurgents.

As I listened to Wayne’s answers on these two segments, one particular conversation pinged my memory.

...I had just asked Wayne if he was in a safe place. “Now, Mom…” he mumbled, words dribbling out slow as syrup that's been in the refridgerator. “You know, if you just wouldn’t ask questions like that, you’d have a lot less to worry about.”
He is so busted!
Better news today from Soldier’s Mom about Nathan’s recovery. Over 200 people have posted notes of encouragement to her since last night.
“Just spoke with my son from Iraq!! He is waiting evac from Iraq to Germany for further evaluation of his spine... All the prayers worked BIG TIME as they determined that they did not have to operate in Iraq and will await further tests in Germany… Thank you all for your caring and your compassion, but mostly thank you for your prayers... they DO work!"
To watch the second installment of WLBT’s coverage of the 150th in Iraq, look under “Featured Videos.” Click 150th Engineers: Fighting Insurgent Attacks. (Again, Wayne is the last soldier interviewed.)

Day 215 - Prayer Warrior Rally for Noah Pincusoff

While I was working on the magazine tonight, "Some Soldier's Mom" posted an urgent plea on our blog comments, requesting prayer for her son, Noah Pincusoff, who was injured in a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) attack.

Noah is in surgery at an Iraqi hospital, being treated for a serious spinal cord injury.

Please jump over to her web site and post a note of encouragement.

We also send our prayers to the family of Sgt. Todd Partridge, a soldier from Natchez, MS, who was killed over the weekend when his Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Day 214 - TV Clip: Alpha Company on Patrol

Several friends posted comments on yesterday’s blog, saying they saw Wayne interviewed last night on WLBT-TV Channel 3 in Jackson, MS. As you might imagine, Wayne talks about about KIDS and SHOES!

Look in the right column of WLBT’s web site under “Featured Videos.” Wayne is the last soldier interviewed on the clip, 150th Engineers: Alpha Company on Patrol.

(Hat tip to Nicole Skinner and "Aunt Tracye" for the link!)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Day 213 - Alive at the Adolphus and Arboretum

Plenty of good news floated through the airwaves this weekend while we were in Dallas. Although we're late posting Good News Sunday, even Connor, Wayne’s three-month-old nephew, seems to have gotten word exciting things are happening!

News sources around the country reported an Associated Press story about the 155th’s humanitarian missions, especially their adopt-a-school and orphanage projects.

Across Iraq last week, American forces continued to assist Iraqis in re-establishing power facilities, restoring sewerage elements, refurbishing schools, as well as constructing courthouses, schools and police stations.

Meanwhile, Myron and I continued to make new friends with the world-class staff at The Adolphus hotel in Dallas. Under the leadership of Managing Director Tom Garcia, Adolphus hospitality begins the moment guests arrive. Throughout our stay, we were blanketed with knowledgeable, professional courtesy. Special thanks to David Davis, Director of Public Relations, for his gracious guidance.

Recently named one of the world’s ‘best places to stay’ by Conde Nast, the Adolphus comprises 428 guestrooms, featuring European lithographs, antique-style furnishings, Internet access, minibars, luxurious linens, deep tubs plus designer toiletries and plush bathrobes.
We stayed in one of 17 tastefully appointed suites, which range from 950 to more than 2,500 square feet. Guests can choose from corporate suites, with full kitchens and dining rooms–perfect for extended stays–or two-bedroom suites, with rooms opening onto spacious parlors. Some even open onto a private Garden Terrace. Many have full wet bars, deluxe marble bathrooms off of each bedroom, sitting rooms and separate entrances.
Sunday afternoon, we toured 66 acres of flowing gardens and captivating statuary known as Dallas Aboretum. August heat convinced us to take advantage of the tram ride. While we drank fresh lemonade, our tour guide explained the history of the former DeGolyer and Camp family estates.
The Arboretum’s biggest annual event is Dallas Blooms, held in late March through early April. Visitors from around the world see a spectacular display of:
* 400,000 spring-blooming bulbs including tulips, daffodils, hyacinth and Dutch iris,
* 20,000 azaleas, 80,000 pansies, violas, poppies, plus
* Thousands of other spring-blooming annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees.

The thing we look forward to seeing most right now is one 22-year-old, brown-eyed soldier!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Day 211 - Western Influence

I’m probably one of the few people in the universe who has waited until the second half-century of life to visit Dallas. WHOA!
Late last night, we pulled in to the Adolphus Hotel.
A baroque masterpiece infused with classic European charm, The Adolphus was the vision of beer baron Adolphus Bush. An icon of Edwardian opulence, the hotel helped transform Dallas into a world-class destination with its museum collection of artwork, including Flemish tapestries, Louis XV chairs and a Victorian Steinway once owned by the Guggenheims.

The grand dining room, the French Room, is crowned with ‘two enormous Murano chandeliers dripping with hand-blown Venetian glass.’ Gilded arches frame a dramatic rococo-style representation of heaven on the ceiling, while polished marble floors ‘swarm with formally attired service staff.’ (The Dallas Morning News)

The next block is anchored by Neiman Marcus. Established in 1907, the flagship store put Dallas on the international retail map, featuring exclusive fashion lines delivered with the gracious charm for which the 35 stores are now famous. "Poppy" Myron bought a new outfit and shoes for Wayne’s three-month-old nephew, Connor. Open downtown Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. On Thursdays, the store is open until 8 p.m. to accommodate late shoppers.

This afternoon, we’ll visit the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center, and the Dallas Arboretum.

Now, I understand why Wayne and Lauren like it here!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Day 210 - Sole Mates

Yesterday, we received this email from Wayne thanking everybody who collected and sent shoes for the Iraqi children:

Please tell Mrs. Wagner the last box of shoes we got was from a family in MO. I think their last name was Wheatley. Either way, the shoe drive has been nothing less than a huge success. I bet we've passed out nearly 1000 pairs of shoes from everyone that has sent them.

You have no idea how much the efforts have been appreciated, not only by the kids and families receiving them, but also by us as Americans in a not-so-welcoming place. These shoes give us a reason to interact with the locals and show them that we are not here to harass them, but to help them. So thank you to everybody who has participated in this incredible event.

When the phone rang this morning, we were thrilled to hear Wayne’s peppy voice on the other end.

“I don’t know when I’ve slept so much,” he chirped. “If I’m not working, eating or working out in the gym, I’m sleeping—-just to make the time go by faster until I come home on leave!”

Nearly everything he said this morning made me laugh. It was good to hear Wayno-Wayno in such fine form.
“I’ve got two mottos,” he concluded, “Life only gets better and I’m full of surprises…Let’s just say that living with mortars and IED’s pretty much puts everything in perspective.”
Choosing to smile has benefits, according to Malcolm Gladwell. In his latest book, Blink, Gladwell says, "What (Silvan Tompkins) discovered is that (facial) expression alone is sufficient to create marked changes in the autonomic nervous system."

Wanna smile right now? Check out the online yodeling course I found right after Wayne’s call.

Claiming the pastime is healthier than yoga or jogging, scientists at Graz University found yodeling eases tension and stress by releasing endorphins, and gives lungs a healthy workout, to boot!

Listen to this!!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Day 209 - Another Cache Deal

An unexpected news alert last night brought this good report about Wayne’s battalion:
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq - Soldiers of the 150th Engineer Battalion, 155th Brigade Combat Team, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) recently discovered a weapons cache near Forward Operating Base Dogwood.

Items seized and subsequently destroyed include 36 individual SA-7 surface-to-air missiles and 4,480 rounds of 14.5mm heavy machine gun ammunition.

The 155th BCT is a U.S. Army unit assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Yesterday's headlines also reported string of car bombs. Embedded journalist Michael Yon makes a case for using the term ‘homicide bomber’ to describe perpetrators of such crimes. "A fanatic who straps a bomb to his chest and walks into a market crowded with women and children, then detonates a bomb sometimes laced with rat poison to hamper blood a mass murderer."
“There is nothing good to say about mass murderers,” he continues, “nor is there anything good to say about a person who encourages these murders. Calling these human bomb delivery devices 'suicide bombers' is simply incorrect. They are murderers. A person or media source defending or explaining away the actions of the murderers supports them. There is no wiggle room.”

Yon argues that calling homicide bombers ‘martyrs’ is verbally offensive and flagrantly inaccurate. (Read more…)
"The only martyrs I know about in Iraq are the fathers and brothers who see a better future coming," he emphasizes, "and so they act on their beliefs and assemble outside police stations whenever recruitment notices are posted. They line up in ever increasing numbers, knowing that insurgents can also read these notices. The men stand in longer and longer lines, making ever bigger targets of themselves. Some volunteer to earn a living. This, too, is honorable. But others take these risks because they believe that a better future is possible only if Iraqi men of principle stand up for their own values, for their country, for their families. Theses are the true martyrs, the true heroes of Iraq and of Islam. I meet these martyrs frequently. They are brave men, worthy of respect."

In a similar rant, soldier blogger Dadmanly posts required reading for anybody that even uses the term ‘exit strategy.’
Even if we could create a comprehensive Exit Strategy and timeline, we could never make them public. As soon as we set an ironclad date for withdrawal of forces, we have communicated the limits of our endurance to our enemies. We've given them a date to mark on their calendar -- hold out until this date, and you win. (More...)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Day 208 - Credit Card Two-Step

Citibank television ads use voiceovers to bring home the point that a lot can go wrong if someone obtains your personal information through identity theft or credit card fraud. Military families can be especially vulnerable targets.

Follow these steps to avoid having to dig yourself out of a deep hole.

1. The next time you order checks, have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name printed. If someone takes your checkbook, they won't know whether to sign the checks with your initials or your first name. Your bank, however, will know how you sign your checks.

2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put "PHOTO ID REQUIRED".

3. When writing checks to pay credit card bills, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, record only the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, but anyone handling your check as it passes through all the check processing channels won't have access to it.

4. Put your work phone number instead of your home phone on your checks. If you have a P.O. Box, use that address instead of your home address. If you don't have a P.O. Box, use your work address. Never have your social security number printed on your checks. Add it by hand, only if necessary; but not at all, if avoidable. Once recorded, anyone can get it.

5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy both sides of each license, credit card, etc. This record will verify what you had in your wallet with all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel.

Keep the photocopy in a safe place. Store a photocopy of your passport for extra protection.

If you or someone you know is the victim of identity theft or credit card fraud, follow these steps:

1. Cancel your credit cards immediately. Keep toll free numbers with records of your card numbers in a safe place to know what and where to report.

2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your information was stolen. This proves due diligence to credit providers, a typcial first question in any investigation.

3. Most importantly, call the three national credit reporting companies immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. Any company checking your credit will know from this alert your information has been stolen. They will now have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

* Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271

* Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

* Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742

* Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Hat tip to my sister, Teresa, for good advice how to Check It Out and Lock It In.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Day 207 - Foot Stompin' Glad!

Recently, Wayne told us Alpha Company relinquished their group bunking quarters to make room for additional office space. Soldiers are now paired in ‘two-man cans,’ trailers designed to give the men more privacy. Despite the benefits, the move was bittersweet for some who described the old space as ‘home.’

Speaking of home, Mississippi soldiers who deployed in January are nearing the end of their rotation for Rest and Relaxation.

Wayne contacted us yesterday with news of his leave dates next month. Because Lauren is attending summer school at LSU-Shreveport, Wayne’s plans to spend his family time in Louisiana, our home before we moved to Arkansas.

Although they won’t be coming to Hot Springs, we’re excited about our visit with Wayne and his fiancee, Lauren, as well as the opportunity to meet her parents for the first time.

While we're there, we'll probably take in Louisiana Folklife Festival, an annual showcase of Louisiana’s traditional culture. Hosted by the City of Monroe, the Festival celebrates a dynamic people whose zest for living is derived from the rich heritage of many countries, cultures, and ethnic groups.

Before he returns to Iraq, Wayne and Lauren will travel to Seaside, Florida, to finalize plans for their wedding next summer.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Day 206 - Monday Muse

I’m always amazed at the number of email responses generated from Good News Sundays.

Ellen Nuckolls, a musician friend from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, sent a great story about Denzell Washington’s (December, 2004) visit to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. While there, the popular actor took part in a Purple Heart ceremony, presenting medals to three Army soldiers recovering from wounds received in Iraq. Sometime later, Mr. Washington made a substantial donation to the Fisher House Foundation, an organization that provides a network of ‘comfort homes’ which are essentially the military version of Ronald McDonald Houses.

Doug Toups, one of Wayne’s mentors, was particularly impressed by the message of “Until Then…”

We agreed it was worth an encore, just in case anybody missed it.

Robin Mullins Boyd posted her own long list of successes in Iraq, concluding, “While Saddam Hussein was in power, children in lower economic regions attended school in mud and reed huts. Iraq was not known for its sanitation systems. Most communities relied on slit trenches which left sewage pooling in the street. Many Iraqis lived without fresh water. When it rained, sewage ran through the streets. For those of us that have lived our lives in comfortable homes with running water and toilets, it is difficult to imagine living in a situation like that. Thanks to our soldiers and the sacrifices they have made, the Iraqis are enjoying some of the benefits that we take for granted. Is there anything nobler than that?”

Thanks to everybody who takes time to post a comment or send an email. Wayne reads each one, and we all appreciate your love and support.

Have a great week!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Day 205 - Good News Sunday

The same day we posted our story about National Guard veteran Robert “B.J.” Jackson, First Sergeant Kevin Kelly shared news of another remarkable recovery.

Sergeant Wong, a soldier from Camp Dogwood who lost his legs in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack, is home in California, up and walking around on his new prosthetic legs.

SGT Wong is getting faster and faster…and may wear out (the new legs) in the first year. I think everyone was joking when they asked how long the warranty was for. He had said he would be walking again as soon as he got home in the states. I did mention that he was also given his American citizenship while he was still unconscious, but his father was present. Looks as though SGT Wong is taking his first steps as an American in great strides. Everyone is always glad to get good news about people who are hurt while serving over here. Keep him and all the others in your prayers.

Is it all worth it? Mohammed is a 35-year-old dentist who graduated from Baghdad University in 1995. Refusing to serve in Saddam's army, he quit his job six years ago. Now, he has returned to work in Samawa City in southwest Iraq. Read Mohammed’s response to Cindy Sheehan.

In other news, Kelly says soldiers from C Company hit the jackpot during a search earlier this week:
I’m not exactly sure everything they found, but by listening to the radio as they called in their finds, it seemed pretty big. I heard them talking about mortar rounds, rockets, ammunition and all other things. It doesn’t matter if it was one piece or 1,000 pieces; it still means that they found something that can’t be made into an IED. They did a great job today and hopefully I will be able to find out exactly what they found. reports these and other successes across Iraq this week:
Nearly 18,000 children will begin classes in 43 refurbished schools. More than 1200 children have received medical screenings during the last four weeks as part of a joint effort of Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.

In Baghdad, USAID made a significant grant to the International Press Center.

New water projects and new police facilities are being constructed to the north.

Citizens in Baghdad and Ramadi were just some of the Iraqi citizens who assisted Coalition and Iraqi Forces in locating weapons caches this week, taking an active part in securing their communities and creating an environment that will foster more reconstruction and increased stability.
Wayne sent a few Instant Message blips over the weekend. Not much news, but we were glad to hear from him.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Day 203 - Until

Yesterday, we shared the story of courageous National Guard veteran Robert “B.J.” Jackson, a soldier who lost his legs in a 2003 firefight on his day off in Baghdad.

Today, we send our best wishes to Sgt. Michael Stafford, 33, of Shannon, Mississippi. His wife, Jessica, said her husband was the only soldier injured in a convoy when a bomb exploded near the lead truck he was driving. Stafford lost his foot.

Jessica is waiting stateside until her husband returns from a U.S. hospital in Germany.

The night Wayne flew to Kuwait, he called from the tarmac just before takeoff. The last words we exchanged were not good-byes. We simply said, “Until.”

Hat tip to Shelia Biffle for this stirring tribute to our soldier heroes and all the families who await their return.

The music, "Homeward Bound" from The Road Home is sung by the Choirs of Brigham Young University.

The slide presentation is titled, “Until Then…”

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Day 202 - Serious Fun

Myron played a lot of golf last week while we vacationed in and around St. Augustine, Florida.

From what I read this morning, Army National Guard veteran Robert “B.J.” Jackson of Des Moines, Iowa, may be more serious about golf than my husband is.

According to the story in USA Today, B.J. and four other soldiers went shopping on their day off in a busy, congested area of Baghdad where lambs hang in the windows of butcher shops and trash smolders in the streets. B.J. stopped to buy his older daughter a Barbie doll before jumping back into his Humvee. As he pulled out, he hit a land mine. At the same time, a rocket-propelled grenade hurled at his truck.

The truck flew six feet in the air, pinning Jackson's legs under the dash. For more than four hours, others in his group were trapped in a firefight while frantically struggling to free him. The next thing Jackson remembers is waking at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
That day, his wife told him both his legs were gone.

His first thought today: I’m still alive.

Recovery from the 2003 injury and a set of prosthetic legs has Jackson feeling he can do almost anything. Instead, Jackson, 24, serves as national spokesman for the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, an organization which provides recently disabled veterans with job counseling, housing and spousal support. "This will help service members, and it helps me deal with my injuries."

You can help, too. Read the story…

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Day 201 - Steak, Shrimp and Stately Stuff

Recently, we told you about the folks in Dallas who welcome soldiers in a special way.

A few days ago, an anonymous patron picked up a hefty tab at The Fort restaurant in Colorado for the family of Marine Matt Heckithier, who were sharing a special dinner days before his deployment to Iraq. (Hat tip to my brother, Blair, for another great story.)

Speaking of restaurants, we forgot to mention another favorite during our visit last week to St. Augustine, FL, the oldest, continuously occupied European settlement in the United States.

Everybody we asked recommended O’Steen’s for the best shrimp in town. That’s saying something, for a town with over 150 restaurants.

Located on Florida Hwy A1A just off the Bridge of Lions, patrons regularly wait outside up to two hours for O’Steens famous fried butterfly shrimp and key lime pie, served on only 15 tables and the bar. Pack your cash when you go. No credit cards. No checks. Worth every penny. (Sorry, no web site, either. I did find these pics of O’Steens and the St. Augustine’s Lighthouse. Remember: the people are not us.)

We spent one day jumping on and off the trolley at many of the 20 stops along the route. One of my favorites was the Lightner Museum. Located in the heart of historic downtown, the collection features relics of America’s Gilded Age, elegantly displayed on the museum’s three floors.

A few blocks over, we rested inside the beautiful Memorial Presbyterian Church, 'dedicated to the glory of God for the virtuous Christian life' of Henry Flagler's daughter who died of chilbirth complications in 1889. The remains of Jennie Louise, as well as those of her mother and baby, are housed in the adjacent mausoleum. Modeled after St. Mark's Cathedral in Italy, the Venetian Renaissance Revival Style church was completed in only 361 days, just in time for the first anniversary of Jennie's death.

St. Augustine is sometimes called "America's Riviera," thanks to oil magnate Henry Flagler's vision to preserve many centuries-old structures. His initiative fueled a golden renaissance that added exciting new architectural and recreational features, transforming the once slumbering town into one of Florida's earliest resorts.

Definitely worth the trip.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Day 200B - Birthday and Battalion Bashes

Every soldier I’ve talked to says being away from family is the toughest part of deployment.

Every day on vacation with my sister and her family, we prayed for Wayne and his buddies who have now passed the halfway mark in their 535 days of service. (Counting started when they reported to Camp Shelby last August.)

Teresa and Jay Maddox live in north Georgia with Wayne’s cousin, Sarah. We celebrated her 7th birthday during our trip, honoring her request for a takeout pizza buffet after our trek to the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine.

Wayne’s Aunt Teresa is Assistant Vice President for Global Training and Education at credit reporting giant Equifax, headquartered in Atlanta.

Uncle Jay is a regional sales representative for ProSet, Inc., a Louisiana-based company whose polyurea products are touted as the best waterproofing agent on the market. He also spearheads an effort urging officials to consider polyurea coatings as an effective lightweight alternative to steel plates for uparmoring Humvees and other military vehicles.

Over the weekend, Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. Soldiers from Wayne’s battalion captured 39 suspected insurgents during a raid in Sharmiyah. Among the detainees were those suspected of being key insurgent leaders in the area.

Eight of the 39 insurgents were detained on the grounds of the Mudjaherin al Ansar mosque by Hillah SWAT, a specialized Iraqi Police unit. The mosque was not damaged in the operation.

The other suspected insurgents were detained during a cordon and knock operation by U.S. Soldiers.

Commenting on the cooperative success, SFC Kevin Kelly said in his journal,
“I won't get into any of the details of the mission itself, but I will tell you that every mission we go on as a battalion seems to get better and better. It’s amazing the communication that happens between all the companies. If someone needs some help somewhere, the other company will jump right on it. Our HHC Company did an outstanding job of supporting all the line companies. It’s hard to just pinpoint one company on a mission like this because every single one of them has a mission and they perform that mission at 110%. I’ve said it many times, but you should be proud of the things that the 150TH EN BN are doing over here. I will end this paragraph by just saying, Quality over Quantity also defines mission success.”

Day 200 - Foam Away From Home

A comfortable mattress and pillow makes a world of difference in a good night’s sleep. Back in January, when Wayne told us he planned to carry his oversized memory foam pillow on the flight to Kuwait, we all chuckled. Unfortunately, he left the pillow on one of the planes, and ended up sleeping on an army issue until we could ship him another one.

We dumped our old mattress last summer after one night at the Radisson Admiral Semmes Hotel in Mobile. The hotel chain introduced a custom-designed Sleep Number bed by Select Comfort™ at 249 Radisson properties in 2004, with the majority of Radisson's 90,000 beds upgrading to Sleep Number® beds this year and next.

Back on our own foam last night, we admitted the Sawgrass Mariott in Ponte Vedra Beach had pampered us pretty well Saturday with their sumptuous, seriously substantial pillowtop mattress, plush down-filled comforter and pillows, custom duvet and cotton-rich linens.

Highlights of the day at Sawgrass included a round of golf on the famous Stadium Course, home of The Players’ Championship. Joined by Alex Bauer, a recruiter for Kaplan University of Boca Raton, Myron almost birdied the legendary island green on the 17th hole.

By late afternoon, we were ready for massages at the Spa at Sawgrass, a full-service oasis of leisure surrounded by 15 acres of winding lagoons, moss-draped water oaks, twisted palms and giant magnolias.

For dinner, we followed our noses to the Augustine Grille, a casually elegant specialty restaurant featuring Stockyard Beef from Chicago, plus grilled seafood, steak, and chops. Executive Chef since 1997, Charles Charbonneau describes the menu as ‘very American with some very distinctive concepts, all prepared with the freshest ingredients available locally.’

We enjoyed Grilled Filet Mignon with Chateaubriand Sauce and Pan Seared Ruby Red Snapper on a Lobster Rissoto Cake, while our server, Raymond Yazzie, greeted other diners by name as they entered the restaurant.

“During the 10 years I’ve worked here, many of our guests have become like family,” he explained. “In fact, these friends often send us Christmas gifts.”

I can see why. Raymond is one of five professional servers at the Grille whose combined tenure comprises over 40 years’ experience.

Now, if we could just get Wayne home to enjoy some of this….

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Day 199 - North to Alaska

Here we are again, back at DFW Airport, only this time our flight appears to be on time. U.S. soldiers parade up and down the halls. The smiling ones are coming home on leave. The not-smiling ones are returning to duty.

Close to us sits First Sergeant Steven DiGeorgio, on leave from 120-degree heat in Iraq, headed for 40-degree temperatures in Fort Wainwright, Alaska. That’s just outside Fairbanks, for all you mainlanders like me who didn’t have a clue, either.

“I missed my family the most,” he says. “When I get home, the first thing I’m going to do is wake up my kids, even if it is 2 o'clock in the morning. My wife hasn’t told them I’m coming home!”

The lady sitting next to us interjects, “Kiss your wife first!”

“Cool weather is something else I’ll definitely enjoy,” DiGeorgio adds. “My wife asked me about food preferences when I get there. Actually, I don’t care so much about that as much as I do just being with them and going fishing and stuff. It will also be nice not to have to wear a uniform and boots for a couple weeks!”

What would Sergeant DiGeorgio like to tell the American public?

“We really appreciate the support like we got last night coming into DFW. After we left the baggage area, we rounded the corner. Nearly 100 individuals were clapping and cheering and walking up to shake our hands. It was really neat. Since the airport was nearly closed when we got here, they provided a bus to take us to a nearby hotel instead of making us spend the night in the airport.”

At the Clarion South, hotel management provided free dinner and breakfast for the 280 arriving soldiers who had all missed their connecting flights. That's a lot of hungry mouths!

SFC DiGeorgio doesn’t know exactly how long he has left in his deployment.

“It’s a pretty fluid situation over there,” he explains. “Nothing is set in stone. It’s all wait and see at this point.”

Time to board.

“Again, we all appreciate all the support we’ve gotten,” he says, rising to shake Myron's hand. “We’ll be glad to get home for good.”

God bless you, Soldier. Salute.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Day 198 - Golf Heaven

Friends and family in Louisiana enjoyed reading Friday’s newspaper account of the shoes collected for Iraqi children in a drive organized by Wayne’s aunt Janet Moore.

Meanwhile, back on this side of the ocean, Myron and I spent the day at
World Golf Village in north St. Augustine. Despite a short rain delay, the round of golf at Slammer & Squire proved to be resort player friendly, according to Myron.

"Great greens,” he elaborated. “Considering the heat of August, these greens were probably in better shape than any we’ve played all week. Water features were prominent, but not particularly hazardous.”

The highlight of Friday afternoon was Myron’s high tech private golf lesson with Todd Jones at the PGA Golf Academy. A few pointers about grip and stance helped to make some noticeable improvements on the course today.

While Myron chipped and putted at the King & Bear course, I slipped into dreamland at Spa Laterra--an architectural masterpiece of elegance and serenity.

Tucked away in a quiet area off the main complex, Laterra Resort blends mediterranean elegance with casual comfort. Just past the courtyard, a lush grassy knoll beckons guests to the pool area, banked in back by an infinity pool lipping into a lazy Florida inlet. My first thought was 'what a great spot for an intimate wedding.'General Manager Michael Austin assured us he already has several fall ceremonies on the books.

Inside, a beautifully appointed spa welcomes guests to a peaceful place for relaxation and rejuvenation.

We opted for casual fun at dinner last night. Bill Murray’s Caddy Shack offers a lively environment with hefty burgers and pulled pork sandwiches.

This morning, we moved to the Marriott Sawgrass at Ponte Vedra. Time for spa appointments. More later.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Day 195 - Hangin' at the Hammock

Any way you cook it, fish tastes better fresh.

Last night, we enjoyed eating king mackerel caught during our outing aboard the Fishbox charter yesterday morning. For $11.95 each, the chef at Kingfish Grill prepared our fish in equal proportions—blackened, fried and grilled—with rice and steamed veggies for sides. My sister added cheese grits, another low country favorite.

Located on the water at Camanche Cove Marina, the Kingfish Grill first made a name for itself as a fish shack cooking catches from sport fishing charters. Now, the restaurant is a popular gathering place and watering hole for locals and tourists alike.

Wayne sent this email just after midnight:

Goodness, that food sounds good. Glad to hear the fish were biting. I love y’all. Take pictures!

Last year, we fished with Captain Dale Woodruff aboard his boat, Class Act, out of Zeke’s Marina in Ft. Morgan, AL. Wayne had a ball pulling red snapper and grouper off the bottom of the Gulf, and even more fun eating it that night.

We spent today in Palm Coast, Florida, at Ocean Hammock Lodge and Golf Club. Marketing Director Allen Anderson, Golf Pro Mary Hafeman and Golf Sales Director David Bokowski welcomed us to the spectacular Oceanside venue. Situated midway between historic St. Augustine and hoppin’ Daytona, Ocean Hammock was recently awarded Four Diamond status by AAA.

Twenty rooms in a country club style setting make it the perfect golf getaway, corporate board retreat, family reunion site or wedding destination.

Condos are also available for rent in a variety of price points and packages. Deep discounts for extended stays in December and January are popular with value hunters.

I bet SFC Kevin Kelly would opt for Ocean Hammock compared to the Sandbox Hammock any day!
"We hit golf balls last night. Jody and I invited LT Lehnemen to come hit some with us. We saw someone walking past and jokingly said I bet you can't hit them. We turned our heads for just a second and he hit it. I'm glad he couldn't reach them. I could just see us getting a court martial for hitting someone with a golf ball. We explained the rules that there is a lot of trash talking while hitting golf balls here and nothing is to be taken seriously. I have really started to get a lot worse instead of better. There is no one safe while I'm hitting the ball. We usually play in a big golf tournament in Philadelphia in a few weeks. We have won it the last two years, but I'm sure Chad is glad he has to find another partner this year as bad as I stink."
(From his Aug 2 journal)

Myron’s partner for today’s round was Guy Maisonet, a high school teacher, coach and host for Camp Olmsted, a historical retreat and camp located on a 76 acre site in Cornwall-On-Hudson, New York. Seagulls and alligators kept us company throughout the day!

Tonight, we’ll celebrate a 7th birthday for Sarah Maddox, Wayne’s cousin from Atlanta. We're hoping to get a phone call!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Day 194 - Time to Eat!


Every fisherman loves the sound of a reel dragging under the weight of a fighting fish.

Jay’s right arm tired quickly as his line zinged with the promise of supper on the other end.


Suddenly, the fish broke the surface of the water! Something was different. Something was wrong. Half the fish was gone!

Captain Mike Grashof, our host on the Fishbox, had one comment: “It’s good to be further up the food chain.”

We caught more than this one fish today, thank goodness. In a few minutes, we’re on our way back to the marina to eat other king mackerel caught from the Atlantic today.

While we were on the water, Myron played golf in Jacksonville at Deercreek Country Club. Home to some of the region's finest golfers for events like the US Amateur and USGA Senior Amateur qualifiers, Deercreek was designed by Robert Miller to thrill golfers with challenging carries, demanding doglegs, and sentinel pines lining the fairways.

Had an email from Wayne today. All is well for another day.