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.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Day 254 - Who Ya Gonna Call?

Mississippi families separated from their soldiers have been especially frustrated by the difficulties of receiving phone calls since Kat-Rita packed a double punch to the area.

Blair, my brother who lives in Jackson, introduced me to Stacy, who describes the most recent call from her son like this:
“1 HOUR 39 MINUTES AND 22 SECONDS after my cell phone rang earlier tonight, I sat back with this big smile on my face. We had a lot of catching up to do. He has been trying to call since he made it back to the sand from R&R… After many attempts at trying to get through to us, along with several voice messages that he was at least able to leave on our cell phones, and one call that was disconnected tonight, we can finally breath a sigh of relief…It has been a very long 33 days.”
Another mother-blogger, Soldier’s Mom, probably said it best for all of us:
“I think back to the days before (Noah) was injured and was still in Iraq. Each hour that we didn’t hear -- whether the instant messenger was silent or the phone didn’t ring – one drip from a faucet into a million gallon bucket – not fast enough, not soon enough, not often enough. It’s a bucket that can never be filled.” (Read the rest…with tissue handy!)
One of these days, we won’t be counting nine hours ahead to figure out what time it is in Iraq every time the phone rings.

First Sergeant Kevin Kelly reports from Wayne’s base:
We had a meeting today at 3:00 to discuss the priority of sending people home. Each company took their list of people and decided in order when they should fly out. We don't have any dates or anything, but people knew if they would be some of the first, middle or last to go…The whole thing is that this list is subject to change tomorrow so no one is really getting their hopes up. It was nice to be discussing going home though.
Home. That’s r e a l l y good to hear.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Day 253 - After the Fall

The first cool snap of Fall sneaked into Hot Springs overnight. Autumn color tips the trees, a gentle reminder of the eternal principal of resurrection life: 'Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.'

In an Op-Ed piece published earlier this week by The New York Times, author John Grisham explains why Katrina is no match for the spirit of Mississippi:
As dark as these days are, though, there is hope. It doesn't come from handouts or legislation, and it certainly doesn't come from speeches promising rosy days ahead...Hope here comes from the people and their remarkable belief that, if we all stick together, we'll survive...

Normalcy is the key, and the people cling to anything that's familiar - the school, a church, a routine, but especially to one another. (Read the entire editorial.)
Wayne called yesterday, asking questions about online college registration forms. Eager to beat a looming deadline for Spring semester, our conversation felt curiously normal, like 'this is what we usually do this time of year. He'll actually be back in school in a few months.'

That glimmer of hope yesterday was welcome as the promise of Fall this morning.

It's been a while since we took time specifically to thank all of you who are making the journey with us this year while Wayne is deployed to Iraq. We know he has been encouraged by your comments, surrounded with your love and protected by your prayers.

So have we, and there's definitely hope in that.

(Also posted at Mudville Gazette.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Day 251 - Thumbs Up

In gladiatorial games, fingers and thumbs dictated life or death. Ironically, honor was crucial and audiences expected the loser to be valiant, even in death.

Last night, my e-mailbox was flooded with different versions of two news alerts. One story reported Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 man in Iraq had been shot and killed in a house raid.

The other story detailed yesterday’s gruesome murders of five teachers in south Baghdad.

According to the New York Times, armed men dressed as police officers burst into a primary school in a town south of Baghdad on Monday, rounded up five Shiite teachers and their driver, marched them to an empty classroom and killed them, a police official said. Some children were still in the school when the killings occurred.
(Read the rest…)

Sometimes, I just don’t get it. I really don’t.

I do know this. Once you start making a bunch of mommas mad, gladiators will look like teddy bears and the apocalypse will seem like a picnic.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Day 250 - New Release on Life

Happy Birthday to Wayne’s Uncle Blair today, seen in this picture with his lovely wife, Leslie, at Will and Mandy’s wedding in Dallas last weekend. Rumor is he was browsing a Levenger store in Boston over the weekend.

Two weeks ago, while all eyes were on Hurricane Katrina, something extraordinary happened. In a farmhouse south of Baghdad, an American hostage was rescued by U.S. troops after being held for 10 months in a dark underground concrete cell. We first learned of Hallum’s release from the milblog gurus over at Mudville Gazette.

Wayne dinged in online last night, not long after we had watched Ray Hallum's interview with Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes. Taped two weeks after his release, Hallums said at the conclusion of the interview he hadn’t heard from any government officials.

“That’s small potatoes compared to being here with my family now,” he said quietly.

Ray’s daughter, Carrie, faithfully maintained this web site during the ordeal. You can still send a note of encouragement to Ray at P.O. Box 947; Westminister, CA 92684.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Day 249 - Good News Sunday

Good news was close as prayer the last 24 hours.

Wayne was online and available for Instant Message conversation last night, just after we returned from the Arts Cooperative Team’s First Annual Adirondack Chair Exhibit and Auction.

Apparently, his last few days have been pretty uneventful. Temporarily loaned out to another Forward Operating Base, Wayne and his crew were scheduled for a week of work. When they arrived, the group they were sent to assist was not yet ready for them to begin the project.

To pass the time, the men have been ‘sleeping and watching a previous season of the television hit series, “24.” ‘

Today, however, turned out to be more than a ‘catch up’ day for Wayne et al. I found out why when the phone rang at 6:00 this morning.

“We were in a convoy headed down this road when we saw what looked like an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). After we called the ordinance team, we pulled over and set up roadblocks. In the mean time, I talked with some multi-lingual guys from South Africa who worked for a security company in the area. The IED turned out to be a huge contraption made of seven 155mm-mortar rounds daisy-chained together! The good news is we saw it before somebody ran over it. Thank God, everybody’s OK.”

In a similar instance, New York artist Steve Mumford shares this close call from his Baghdad Journal:
After a minute someone shouts "cease fire!" and I follow Sanchez, and Specialists Angel Lugo and Victor Ramirez as they race down the side of the plot of land where the firing came from. We jump a short chain link fence, cross a turnip field, and we're in a large grove of date palms. There's no one here, just lots of broken palm branches and a dead cat, hit with a round from someone's M16. We find a hastily constructed blind, a piece of sheet metal covered in freshly cut palm leaves, and reconstruct a possible getaway route to the river.

Amazingly, no one has been hurt in the lead humvee, even though terrible shards of metal from the 155-mortar round are lying about. The vehicle is the only reinforced "up-armor" humvee Bravo Company has.

A box wrapped in plastic and tape is found in one of the fields near where the IED went off, and soon the explosives team arrives, and sends a robot with a video camera to take a look and then retrieve it. It's a phone handset. Our jammer didn't work.
Stories like these are common, but never commonplace.

Meet Joey, and share this soldier’s courageous road to recovery since his vehicle ran over an anti-tank mine daisy-chained to two 155-mortar rounds last October.

Today’s good news: I’m still a blue star mom.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Day 248 - Steamy Storm Story

I can't recall ever having met Beverly Heggwood in person. One of our advertisers asked me to get permission to take a picture of her floors to use in their magazine ad this month. Once we started talking on the phone, Beverly and I just sort of hit it off.

“Wanna hear another story?” my new friend asked, after telling me how she had braved long lines at the gas station yesterday to top off her tank in anticipation of Hurricane Rita.

“It was Get the Man day for me!” she snickered, introducing her sassy side. “I parked hood to hood with a young man who finished filling up just as I flipped the lever to start pumping my gas.”

’Move your car! I’m in a hurry!’ the guy said, peering at me,” Beverly continued. “Well, I didn’t want to cancel my transaction, so I asked him to hold the nozzle while I moved my car. Just about the time he grabbed it, the SUV parked behind his car backed away. He shoved the nozzle back my way, jumped in his car and started to back up, but not before the next car pulled up into the empty space and blocked him in again.”

"Totally frustrated, the man jumped out of his car and repeated his ultimatum. ‘I SAID I’m in a hurry! Now MOVE YOUR CAR!’”

Beverly interrupted her story to tell me she’s only five feet tall, but still a lot like her 85-year-old mother. She also mentioned thinking something about hell freezing over as she marched toward His Rudeness.

“He wasn’t much taller than I am with heels on,” she sneered, “but you couldn’t have put a piece of paper between our noses by the time I stopped. I looked him squarely in the eyeballs and spoke very slowly:
“S A Y… P L E AS E!!”

He did. Beverly handed him the nozzle a second time before moving her car so that he could drive off.

The guy is probably still thinking about his first encounter with a Cat 5 hurricane on two legs.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Day 247 - American Gold Star Mother's Day

I'll never forget a moment last December standing with Wayne in front of St. Luke's Episcopal Church looking at the massive cedar tree decked with 24 red ribbons and three yellow ribbons.

"What's the difference between the red ones and the yellow ones?" he asked.

"The names on the red ribbons represent soldiers from Arkansas who have died in Iraq," I answered. "Your name is on a yellow ribbon."

President Bush has proclaimed this Sunday National Gold Star Mothers' Day to honor America’s fallen heroes.

Gold star mothers came into general use with the creation of service flags, usually hung in the front window of a home. Blue star flags showed a family had a son in the service. A gold star covering the blue star showed a son died in the service. Mothers of slain servicemen came to be known as gold star mothers.

Although the phrase is sometimes capitalized, this is incorrect because it is not the proper name of any organization.
Through customary usage, the phrase has come to designate any mother whose child has been lost in war. Similarly, blue star mother designates someone like me, whose son or daughter is actively serving in the military.

A group of gold star mothers met in 1928 to organize American Gold Star Mothers, Inc.,(AGSM). As non-profit organization, AGSM does not engage in political or lobbying activities. Members may express their personal, but these opinions are not those of AGSM. The organization takes no position on political issues, but does support our military and has many activities that reflect that support.

The President’s proclamation requests United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings, and the people of the United States to display the flag and hold appropriate meetings at homes, churches, or other suitable places, on Gold Star Mother’s Day as a public expression of the love, sorrow, and reverence of the people for Gold Star Mothers.

“America's Gold Star Mothers carry a great burden of grief,” says the President, “yet they show a tremendous spirit of generosity in helping their fellow citizens. With kindness and understanding, they support members of our Armed Forces and their families, provide vital services to veterans, help to educate young people about good citizenship and our Nation's founding ideals, and bring comfort to many in need. We commend these proud women for their compassion, commitment, and patriotism, and our Nation will always honor them for their sacrifice and service.”

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Day 246 - Stuck on Stupid

Radio Blogger thinks Lt. Gen. Russell Honore’s comments at a Louisiana press conference Tuesday may start a new trend:
"Let's not get stuck on the last storm. You're asking last storm questions for people who are concerned about the future storm. Don't get stuck on stupid, reporters. We are moving forward."
“I think the General just started a movement, and he may not even realize it,” quips Radio Blogger. “Every time a reporter, in any situation, starts spinning, or completely misses the point, they need to be peppered with, Don't get stuck on stupid.”
(Read Lt. Gen. Honore's full statement...)

Agreed, Honore makes his point. But this isn’t truly original material. For lots of us, the Lt. General just put a military spin on a classic parental ultimatum:
"Let’s not get stuck on what everybody else is doing, Son. This is not about them. This is about you. So don’t get stuck on stupid. If I had wanted you to turn out like everybody else, I would have let their parents raise you. Now, let’s move forward."
(I can see you smiling, Wayne.

But don't even roll your eyes, Buddy Boy!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Day 245 - For Days and Daze

Excitement is beginning to build as Wayne’s unit nears the 100 day mark, counting down the days left in their active deployment.

First Sergeant Kevin Kelly reports the new telephone service provider will honor phone cards purchased from the previous provider. That’s good news for all the families who bought hundreds of minutes at one time. That’s even better news for Wayne and Lauren, who talk an average of an hour a day on the phone!
Wayne called us Saturday night during Mandy and Will’s wedding reception to send his best wishes. He also pointed out we didn’t post a picture of Mandy’s parents. Sorry about that. Here’s to the Fishers!

In case you haven’t noticed, the sidebar (over to the right) has shifted WAY to the bottom of the page. Blogger support staff responded with this explanation:
Why does my sidebar shift to the bottom of the page?
On occasion, one column (often the sidebar) will shift when the content contained within a side-menu or a post extends a column beyond its designated width. This behavior varies across browsers so the issue will not always occur when a visitor views your page. To resolve the problem we recommend reviewing the content in both columns to identify items that may be causing column expansion. In most cases, long links and wide images are the cause of the problem.
Just what I need during magazine production week: a trial and error solution! Sorry, but we’ll just have to live with a “shifted template” until the weekend.

Speaking of blogs, our sweet Lauren (Wayne’s fiancé), has started her own wedding diary. Jump over and leave a comment to welcome her to the blogosphere!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Day 242 - It's a Momma Thang

While we were in Dallas this weekend, the streets of Hot Springs were lined with motorcycles. Nearly 8,000 bikers poured into town for the 2005 Arkansas Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) Rally. The annual gathering comprises the largest attendance of any single event held in Hot Springs, a city which hosts nearly 2-1/2 million visitors each year.
Thursday night before we left town, we got another glimpse of

Mammatus clouds, so named for their udder-like appearance. Until we moved here, I can recall having seen these type clouds only one other time in my entire life.

We arrived in Dallas just in time for Mandy and Will’s rehearsal dinner Friday evening. Will’s parents (Wayne’s uncle and aunt), Judge Milton and Janet Moore, hosted the Cajun-themed dinner in the Atrium of the AIG building, not far from the Park Cities Hilton.

Friends and family from all over the country gathered to celebrate with the couple and their families. Perhaps none were more appreciated than Aunt Janet’s friends from South Louisiana who made the trip in spite of their difficulties caused by Katrina.

The slide show chronicling Mandy and Will’s lives prepped us to wipe more tears as we listened to the litany of compliments and congratulations shared by the couple’s closest friends during the toasts.

On Saturday, late afternoon sunlight streamed through stained glass windows, spilling into the sanctuary of Highland Park Methodist Church. Ancient marble floors created an acoustic heaven for the string quartet playing from the choir loft.

Mandy looked absolutely beautiful beneath her full-length veil as she processed with her father to meet her groom at the altar. Observing Will watching Mandy made me think of Wayne and Lauren while they were here. I also heard myself thinking all those “momma” thoughts I used to think were so corny. Seems like only yesterday we were holding these babies.

A fabulous band greeted guests arriving for the reception at the Dallas Petroleum Club, perched 39 floors above the city lights. Mandy and Will took the floor with the first dance to Al Green’s “Let's Stay Together.” Mandy’s dad took over to lead his daughter to the Temptations’ “My Girl.”

Aunt Janet followed to dance with her son. When the band started playing, “What a Wonderful World,” I just lost it. Frantically wiping my tears, Myron tried to make it better, “It’s OK, Honey. The wedding’s over now.” Bless his heart. It’s just another Momma Thang.

Well, we’re up next with Wayne and Lauren’s wedding next summer. As soon as I can quit crying, I’ll get right on it.

If daddies get to give away their daughters, how come mommas don’t get to give away their sons? Probably because we just can't.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Day 238 - I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing

Soldiers in Wayne’s brigade want to share their care packages with other MS National Guard units deployed to the Gulf Coast.

According to the NW Mississippi Daily Journal, the suggestion came through SFC Kevin Kelly, our friend whose personal Daily Journal is a vital source of news for families of soldiers stationed at Camp Dogwood with the 150th Brigade Combat Team.
"I would like to see the items shipped to the Coast for the people who don't have anything," he said. "There are also soldiers working day and night there trying to help those in need, and those soldiers probably have needs, too."
New Orleans may have been built in a bowl; but even now, some evacuees find themselves swamped in a low place of the spirit.

History records plenty of high praises sung from low places. Think of the Bible story about Paul and Silas, two original Prison Idols who shook the world singing praises to God during their midnight hour.

Everybody needs a little help sometimes to sing during times of trouble. We’ve asked one of the best songwriters on the web to strut his stuff by writing a special Song to Wear Pants to. Don’t ask me WHAT that means. The songwriter's site claims he can 'make songs in any genre, for free or for money, based on instructions people send me.'

For one tiny example, catch "My Fishcat Went and Ran Away" at the end of this animation.

Well, here goes. We've requested a rally song, almost like a football fight song...something we’ll sing now and remember forever as the song that rebuilt the Gulf Coast!

(Feel free to suggest lyrics in the comment section!)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Day 237 - A Little Moore Fun!

Mandy Fisher and Will Moore

Wayne's coming home on leave sooner than expected was a pleasant surprise for all of us earlier this month. Because he has returned to Iraq, Wayne is missing his cousin Will's wedding this weekend. So far this year, Wayne has already missed Will's engagement party, Bret's college graduation and subsequent wedding, plus the birth of his nephew, Connor. He did get to meet his new niece, Taylor, before he left.

This weekend, we will witness the vows of Amanda Holten Fisher and William Jarrell Moore (Mandy and Will) at Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas. Afterwards, we'll celebrate their marriage at a reception to be held at the Dallas Petroleum Club.

Son of Judge Milton and Janet Moore of Monroe, LA, Will is an attorney with The Law Firm of Bracewell & Giuliani. Mandy's parents are Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Douglas Fisher of Dallas. She is an attorney with the District Attorney's office of Dallas, TX.

Part of the fun will be having the family all together under one roof at the Hilton Park Cities hotel. We'll miss you Wayne, but we promise to take lots of pictures, and we'll take the web cam, just in case we can catch you online while we're in our rooms!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Day 236 - That's What Makes You Strong

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports as of Sunday, all MS National Guard soldiers' families had been contacted either by people in their communities or the soldiers themselves, according to Maj. Erby Montgomery, public affairs officer

An original list of more than 100 soldiers who had not heard from their families dwindled quickly last week as family support groups and organizations pitched in to help locate people.

Some soldiers still in Iraq delayed their scheduled leave to allow others to take emergency leave. Soldiers whose homes experienced catastrophic losses were given priority status. Regularly scheduled leave may resume as early as the end of the month, the report states.

We’re all readjusting to Wayne’s being back in Iraq. This morning, I read a delayed Instant Message from Wayne, suddenly realizing my Yahoo Messenger was off last night while he was online. (Versdesturfer!!)

Communication skills develop in different ways during a soldier's deployment.

Newly engaged, Wayne looked at Lauren one morning at breakfast here, explaining, “I’m having to learn her facial expressions now. I know every nuance of her voice and what each one means because we’ve been talking on the phone for eight months. But putting the face with the voice is all new!”

We’re all looking forward to Wayne and Lauren’s wedding next summer. Yesterday, my good friend Deb Lindley sent some powerful lyrics to a song she heard on Garrison Keillor's radio show this past Sunday.

Scroll down and click on Segment 6 of Prairie Home Companion's web site to hear the soulful sounds of Kelley Hunt singing

"That's What Makes You Strong."

If you love somebody
Then that means you need somebody
And if you need somebody
That's what makes you weak
But if you know you're weak
And you know you need someone
O it's a funny thing
That's what makes you strong

That's what makes you strong
That's what gives you power
That's what lets the meek come sit beside the king
That's what lets us smile
In our final hour
That's what moves our souls
And that's what makes us sing

And to trust somebody
Is to be disappointed
It's never what you wanted
And it happens every time
But if you're the trusting kind
This don't even cross your mind
O it's a funny thing
That's what makes you strong

That's what makes you strong
That's what gives you power
That's what lets the meek come sit beside the king
That's what lets us smile
In our final hour
That's what moves our souls
And that's what makes us sing

by Jesse Winchester
©Musique Chanteclair Inc.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Day 235 - Flags and Farewells


Soldier blogger SFC Kevin Kelly is stunned by a September 11 order to remove all but one American flag at Forward Operating Base Dogwood.
They put out today that only one flag is allowed to fly on a military post. It doesn't matter if it is a personal flag or not, we can fly only one flag. I thought this was one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard.

I know that originally we weren't suppose to fly the American Flag because it looks like we are occupying the nation, but they did allow us to fly them on our own FOB since this is an American post. I know right now there are a lot of angry people. There weren't a lot of people who had them up, but people are still mad because of the circumstances. Most are saying that we are over here bleeding and dying for this flag, but when we try to display it, we are told we can't fly it. I removed mine today, but wasn't too happy about it.

I heard one person say that someone should leave it up; then, when they tried to give someone an Article 15, to ask for trial by court-martial. Everyone was joking, but serious. Then they said, "The judge will ask 'Why are you here?', and the person will answer, 'Because I wanted to fly my American flag!'"
As FOB Dogwood says goodbye to their flags, we join Mudville Gazette in sending best wishes to Blogger Extraordinaire Arthur Chrenkoff who is moving on to other career pursuits. A new team will continue to post Good News from the Front.

Quoting LTC Erik Kurilla, journalist blogger Michael Yon emphasizes the need for good reports like those from Chrenkoff.
Lying in his hospital bed at the Madigan Army Hospital in Fort Lewis, Washington, recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in combat in Mosul last month, the Commander watches television news, increasingly frustrated by what he sees as a clear, and inaccurate, negative bias. “When you get the news back here in the states, it’s all doom and body counts. I only wish the American public could see the incredible progress that is being made every day in Iraq, particularly in places like Mosul.”
While not yet in the clear, Yon says (Mosul) is much closer to security and prosperity than anyone would have considered possible eight months ago.

Last night, Lauren forwarded several precious pictures taken by folks standing nearby at DFW Airport when Wayne arrived. The photos arrived with this sweet message:
We sincerely hope you and your soldier enjoy his R & R to the fullest! We will keep you and him in our prayers, as we do all our soldiers. We can never thank them enough for their service, commitment, and sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices of the loved ones left behind. Take care and God Bless! Jim and Terry Averett
Now that he's back in Iraq, we say again, 'Until, Son. Until...'

Monday, September 12, 2005

Day 234 - Time Flies

Some Louisiana families evacuated to Arkansas are enjoying a genuine brand of southern hospitality. Meanwhile, some Mississippi families are frustrated over whose soldier gets to come home and who has to stay in Iraq.
“I live here in Gulfport, MS and my husband is in C Co,” said a wife posting in a family support chat room. “He is not able to take emergency leave due to the fact that while most everyone has received damage ( I have major damage, but my house is livable.), not all have lost everything. From what I understand is that those who have lost everything, or who have the most need to be at home, are granted their leave. I guess they have a priority list or something. Though I desperately need my husband here and he wants to be here, it's not going to happen. I am somewhat angry about it, but at the same time I can understand that there are others in more need. We have a roof over our heads, which is more than I can say for a lot of people here on the MS gulf coast. It is a horrible tragedy here. Unbelievable what has happened. I still have family members and friends missing.”
Over in Louisiana, Guardsmen are returning home to a mixed bag of blessings. Most of the soldiers lost everything to Hurricane Katrina, and will qualify for safe haven status, which entitles them to a 14-day leave. After that, they may be eligible for demobilization.
"We're offering them the opportunity to continue to serve in the Guard and help us rebuild southeast Louisiana," Governor Blanco said. "That will keep them employed. This will be an opportunity to tide them over."

Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau said the Guard would help them find housing, and the soldiers would be allowed to go to New Orleans as soon as it was safe.

Here in Hot Springs, it’s strangely quiet again. Wayne has returned to Iraq for his final months of deployment. Before he left, Wayne got to hold his newest niece, Taylor Catherine, the same way we used to hold him as a baby when he had colic.

Just before Wayne boarded the plane in Dallas, he commended the USO for their support, and thanked them for the “care package” which included a 100-minute phone card to call home en route back to the FOB.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Day 233 - Good News Sunday

For this week’s Good News, it doesn’t get much better than a preview of Rick Reily's column to be published in this week's Sports Illustrated. Emailed last night by Nikki Moore, Rick’s weekly column is usually featured on the inside last page, in case you want to pick up your own copy.

Sports Illustrated, 9-12-05 issue
LSU to the Rescue

Sports? No, sports had absolutely nothing to do with the Gulf Coast's trying to survive Hurricane Katrina.

Except that while the fifth-ranked LSU football team practiced in Baton Rouge, about 80 miles northwest of New Orleans, the coaches were hollering above the drone of helicopters, 20 in all, dropping off evacuees.

Except the infield of the outdoor track was being used as a heliport 24
hours a day.

Except that the basketball arena, Pete Maravich Assembly Center, had been turned into a two-hooped hospital. Triage was where the band plays during games. Dialysis was where the scorekeepers sit. And pediatrics was where students usually wail. People still lined up outside to get in, though.

It's just that they were all on stretchers.

No, sports weren't at all involved, except that the field house next door was a patient ward. And the baseball stadium was an evacuee processing center.

Katrina chaos was everywhere. In the LSU sports information office, Student assistant Bill Martin couldn't sleep after volunteering at the Maravich Center, so he decided to urge his friends to help out by e-mailing them about what he'd seen.

Blackhawk helicopters were carrying in victims who'd been stranded on roofs. Buses rolled in from New Orleans.... A lady fell out of her wheelchair and we scrambled to help her up.... A man from New Orleans was badly injured on his head. Five minutes later he was dead. Mothers were giving birth in the locker rooms.... A man was rolled in on a stretcher [suffering from] gunshots. A paramedic said a looter needed his boat and he wouldn't give it to him.... The auxiliary gym was being used as a morgue. I couldn't take myself down there to see it.

Martin's friends should have heard the story of his colleague Jason Feirman. He was stranded on I-10, near the police roadblock 20 minutes outside New Orleans, when a displaced and distraught woman snapped and walked straight into traffic. Feirman jumped out of his car, sprinted down the highway, grabbed the woman and dragged her to the shoulder.

It was a week none will forget, much as they would like to. The Tigers' starting quarterback, sophomore JaMarcus Russell, had a lot on his mind too-- the team's game this Saturday night against Arizona State and the 22 displaced people in his three-bedroom apartment. The guy sleeping on his couch? Fats Domino.

Domino, the R&B icon who'd been listed in the papers as missing for two days, is the granddad of Russell's girlfriend, Chantel Brimmer. After the levees gave way in New Orleans, Domino was trapped on the second floor of his house. He was rescued by boat and taken to the makeshift hospital at the Maravich Center. Russell happened to be volunteering there that night-- as so many LSU athletes were -- bumped into Domino and took him home.

Since then the quarterback has been attending to the people in his apartment. "I've been staying up real late getting medicine and stuff," bleary-eyed Russell said. "Plus, I couldn't eat after what I saw [at the Maravich Center]."

Is he worried about losing the big game? "What's losing a game," he said, "when people are losing their kids, their parents, their houses? Nothing."

Just ask Russell's teammate, defensive end Donald Hains. As of Sunday he still hadn't heard from his parents, who live in Diamond Head, Miss., which took a direct hit from Katrina. "I'm glad I have football," Hains said. "It's my only escape."

The LSU equipment manager, Greg Stringfellow, was up to his clipboard in everything but football. "The Minnesota Vikings just called," he said, staring at his Blackberry during Saturday's practice. "They're sending two semis full of supplies." A Detroit Lions fan named Vince Soulsby was sending 25. Out in the parking lot LSU athletes had already filled up one tractor-trailer with stuff they had donated or collected on their own.

Everybody in the athletic department was in chin-deep. Driving to campus, the football team's trainer, Jack Marucci heard a plea from the hoop hospital over the radio: Vaseline, gauze and 20cc syringes were desperately needed. Hey, Marucci said to himself, I have all that. Fifteen minutes later, he delivered them.

So, no, sports had nothing to do with the Gulf Coast's surviving Katrina, except everything. And that's because you always forget what sports can provide -- can-do staff, fit and focused athletes, and huge, versatile arenas -- in times of trouble.

Inside the field house-hospital, half the patients wore LSU purple and gold because so many students had donated clothing. As I gazed out at that sea of beds, I thought it looked as if the school's booster club was fresh from a train pileup.

"I never used to root for LSU much," said one purple-shirted diabetic, who'd been rescued by boat from the flooded Charity Hospital in New Orleans, "but after this, I guess we're all fans."


Tonight, September 11, at 8 p.m. CST, park your family in front of the television for Discovery Channel’s presentation of The Flight That Fought Back. Blogger Arthur Crenkoff says the story of Flight 93 is extraordinary, not to be missed.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Day 232 - Swing Pitch

Jackson's Clarion Ledger says about 80 members of the Mississippi Army National Guard's 155th Brigade Combat Team, whose homes and families were affected by Hurricane Katrina, are returning to Mississippi from Iraq on emergency leave.
"These soldiers have been fighting the war in Iraq for the past eight months, and this is the proper thing to do since their homes were completely lost during Hurricane Katrina," said Maj. Gen. Harold A. Cross, adjutant general of Mississippi. "We'll do everything possible to help these heroes get back on their feet and resume their lives as citizen soldiers in our state."
This year has been an emotional rollercoaster ride for many families, including ours.

Soldier blogger Dadmanly probably spiked Kleenex stock a few points Friday with this tissue-friendly post about the sacrifices of separation. His son gave up a slot on the All-Star baseball team this summer to share a family vacation while Dad was home on leave from Iraq:

They kept winning. And winning. They took a state title this year. At the awards banquet the other night, you'd think these young boys had just come back from the moon. (Our town takes sports a little too seriously, I suppose.)

Now Little Manly was okay with all that; he was excited for his league, and there was no trace of regret. I'm not sure he even realized that might have been him up there accepting awards and trophies and all that attention. I don't know if he was thinking it, but I know what I was thinking. Even if it had been him, he and I would have traded it all for the few hours we spent together, now that we're apart.
What make sacrifices worth the pain? Read Dadmanly's answer.

While Wayne and Lauren are wrapping up the last few days of his R&R with extended family in north Louisiana, Myron and I jumpstarted the weekend at the opening night concert of 2005 Jazzfest, featuring Ruby Wilson and the Beale Street Band from Memphis, TN. Sponsored by Hot Springs Jazz Society, the concert hosted evacuees from South Louisiana as special guests.

Click here to view Video #1.
(When the new window opens, click the "play" button. Be patient. Might take a minute to load.) Click here to view Video #2.

Acknowledging she had been helping with recovery efforts for the last ten days, Ms. Wilson hushed the house with her truly soulful segue into “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” At the end of the program, Ruby pleaded with the audience to ‘sing for the people of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.’

“C’mon, y’all,” she preached. “Get up! These people need us! They need strength. Thank you, Jesus. They need our prayers. Amen? Sing for them!”

All over the auditorium, we stood. Arms lifted toward heaven, people waved handkerchiefs, tissues, tee shirts—-whatever they could find! And WOW, what a chorus!

O Lord, I’m glad--to be--in that number----as the Saints go marchin’ in!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Day 231 - Reel Life

Thirteen Mississippi National Guard soldiers serving in Iraq with the 155th Brigade Combat Team have not heard from their families since before Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29.

The following soldiers had received no information about their families earlier this week:
• Staff Sgt. Terry Seals of Poplarville; hasn't heard from his wife or his parents, Mr. and Mrs. H.B. Seals, also of Poplarville.
• Spc. Travis Hisaw of Pass Christian; hasn't heard from his wife.
• Staff Sgt. Stanley L. Peters of Sandy Hook.
• Spc. Billy T. Smith of Tylertown.
• Sgt. Arron M. Waldrop of Tylertown.
• Spc. Roderick B. Duckworth of Wiggins; hasn't heard from his wife, Chalesha, or his father-in-law, Shelby Kennedy.
• Pfc. Forest Reynolds of Long Beach.
• Sgt. Freddie J. Cagle Jr. of Gulfport.
• Sgt. Robert B. Hance of Pascagoula.
• Spc. Kimberly E. Garrett of Collins.
• Sgt. Paul Decoronado of Ocean Springs.
Anyone with information for the soldiers can call the American Red Cross at (877) 272-7337 or the Hattiesburg American at (601) 584-3111 to have information forwarded to the soldiers. (We posted the list on several discussion boards as well as Outside the Beltway "Traffic Jam.")

After a year of duty in Iraq, the soldiers of Louisiana’s 256th should be looking forward to a joyous homecoming. Now, because of Katrina, many of the soldiers may be coming back to find their homes and their jobs washed away by the hurricane. Officials said the Army intends to keep the soldiers activated as a way of providing support for individuals who lived in the storm-damaged region.

An official explained this process will provide affected soldiers with housing or housing stipends. Soldiers whose homes are standing and who have jobs to go back to will be released from active duty.

A similar arrangement may be made for the soldiers of Wayne’s group, the Mississippi National Guard's 155th Brigade Combat Team, due to rotate back to the United States in early 2006.


Sunday night, September 11, at 8 p.m. CST, park your family in front of the television for Discovery Channel’s presentation of The Flight That Fought Back. Blogger Arthur Crenkoff says the story of Flight 93 is extraordinary, not to be missed.

"You simply cannot miss it," he continues. "I never type in capitals to make a point, but you can take it that I am now. Extensively researched and drawing on some previously unpublished information, The Flight That Fought Back provides the most complete and comprehensive recreation of events onboard Flight 93. It's a stunning, immensely moving production…."

"The film, part re-enactment, part interview with family members, fleshes out the stories of those ordinary men and women who had found themselves in a situation that was far from ordinary, and who performed, too, in a way that was far from ordinary...
This is the reason why the Islamofascists cannot win - because ordinary people, our brothers, sisters, parents, children, friends - can and will rise up to the challenge when the circumstances call.”

Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette agrees. “This is a story with power, it will move you, and I think after watching the film you'll find yourself in the state I'm in, unable to find any words that can express the experience."

Check your local listings to confirm air time. Until then, if you're close enough to get to Hot Springs this weekend, check out the 2005 Hot Springs Jazzfest! We're hoping a lively outdoor festival with great music will help our Katrina friends from south Louisiana feel a little better!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Day 230 - What's Your Story?

Everybody loves a good story. This week, they’re everywhere.

My friend Brenda Arego called this morning, telling stories how everybody at her daughter’s Catholic school Open House last night pooled their resources to help Katrina evacuees.

“Since the Red Cross doesn’t pay for transportation, the Sisters of Mercy bought a plane ticket to fly an 87-year-old woman to live with her sister in California. Then we all chipped in enough money to help buy bus tickets to San Antonio for a young mother and her three children. And three men worked together to find a job for a welder.”
Many more stories are being told through the lenses of photojournalists. Please make time to soak up the messages of disaster and hope from these 55 images collected and presented by Poynter Online.

While most of America is swamped with the work of recovery, military bloggers continue to tell stories from Iraq. Last night, I ran across this riveting account of a strange roadblock, scripted by soldier blogger Danjel Bout, a young newlywed who joined the Army to help pay for college.
As our vehicles came around the sharp corner, we ran into something wholly unexpected, a neat row of rock and brick sprawled across the road. The impromptu roadblock had a strange castaway symmetry to it; it brought to mind long summer days spent building little dams in the local streams… The HMMWVs could hurdle these barriers with ease, but there was something slightly ominous about this thin string of material laced across the road…The dismounts moved into position as a middle aged gentleman working on the corner started to smile, then slowly walked towards our cordon. (Keep reading!)
What’s your story today?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Day 229 - Say What?

Families everywhere are in transition.

Reporting from Najaf, AP reports say the 3,300-strong Mississippi National Guard unit in Iraq will finish its mission although some soldiers are heading home early to help take care of their families in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"We're going to stay and finish the mission," said Brig. Gen. Augustus L. Collins, commander of the 155th Brigade Combat Team of the Mississippi National Guard. “About 100 soldiers were heading home on emergency leave because of serious family problems caused by the storm.”
Was Katrina’s impact totally unexpected? Read this peculiarly prophetic account of an unnamed storm, published eleven months ago by National Geographic magazine!

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great. (Hat tip to amitch1242 from the Yahoo National Guard Family Support Group)
More recently, a September 2 entry posted by an anonymous doctoral candidate blogger applauded Hot Springers who have helped her brother’s family deal with the aftermath of Katrina:

They will be staying in Arkansas for the time being because there is no power, no gas, and no food in their town, and so it is much better for them to stay where they are. They have been blessed with generosity in Hot Springs: the First Baptist Church has fed them and provided them with a gathering place to meet with other evacuees; the Red Cross provides them with credible information; local citizens have given them clothes, books for their son, and have even offered them houses to stay in. They've turned down the house offers because they feel there are others who need long-term housing more than they do, but my brother says they cry every day from gratitude. And I am so grateful for those people in Hot Springs, Arkansas, who are lessening the burden for my brother, my sister-in-law, my nephew, and so many others.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Day 228 - A Time for Everything

Friday. Blink. Blink. Blink. Tuesday.

Wayne and Lauren pulled out of the driveway early this morning to get her back for class at LSU in Shreveport by 11:30.

September sun peeked through the trees as I removed 12 American flags that had lined the sidewalk during Wayne’s visit. One more time, I perked up the yellow ribbon tied around the oak tree in the front yard. A cooler breeze and sheets from the kids’ beds swish, swish, swishing in the drier remind me life is cycling again.

Wayne and I have shared many goodbyes on Tuesdays after Labor Days. A few years ago, I thought it was hard sending him off to high school 500 miles away at Baylor School in Chattanooga. Sending him back to college at Millsaps got a little easier. The only thing easy about sending Wayne back to Iraq is knowing he’ll be home for good in three more months. I take that back. It’s not easy. Not easy at all.

Before he leaves Dallas Sunday, Wayne will meet his newest niece: Taylor Catherine Moore. Born Friday, September 2 at 12:03 p.m., she weighed 6 pounds 15 ounces, and stretched 19-1/2" long. Daughter of Shawn and Nikki (West) Moore of Lafayette, LA, Taylor is also welcomed by her older sister, Reagan Elizabeth.

Labor Day around here was a mixed bag of doting and duty. After a hearty breakfast, we spent several hours observing the kids process the stuff of adult living…student loans, taxes, investment options, credit reports, wedding plans, career choices, etc. By mid-afternoon, somebody rang the Sushi bell and we all hopped in the car for a pleasant cultural getaway at Osaka Japanese Steak and Sushi restaurant.
Later, Myron treated us to Transporter 2, a far-fetched action flick good for a few good laughs and a surefire reason to eat buttered popcorn.

Back home for the evening, we slugged our way through Batman IV. Everybody agreed George Clooney is not the best Batman, but we enjoyed the nostalgia of watching a movie about Wayne’s childhood superhero.

One final round of shrimp and crab gumbo sent us all to bed with full stomachs and grateful hearts for the time we spent together, the love we share and the dreams we cherish.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

Day 227 - Good News Sunday

Around the country and around the world, compassionate communities are coming to the aid of hurricane victims.

This morning, here in Hot Springs, we attended the dedication of Champion Baptist College, an outreach of Gospel Light Baptist Church. The largest first year independent Baptist College to open since 1974, the school has enrolled students from 21 states and three foreign countries. Pastor Eric Capaci applauded the faithfulness of the congregation which has supported the growing assembly from its roots as a handful of people meeting in a cinderblock storefront in 1992 to its current average attendance of 1000 per Sunday on a 14-acre site in Mid-town.

During lunch at Cracker Barrel, we enjoyed visiting with the Brooks and Orsack families, names synonymous with Brookhill Ranch, where Wayne attended summer camp from the 3rd through 9th grades.

While Myron and I napped after lunch, Wayne and Lauren watched The Notebook, a sweeping love story told by a man reading from his faded notebook.
By late afternoon, we headed off for an evening with Ellen and Bill Walker, the precious Soldiers’ Angels who organized a shipment of 27 goodie boxes to Wayne’s unit earlier this year. Ever since then, the Walkers have kept pictures of SGT West and Lauren on their bar.

“Everybody who has been a guest here this year has toasted to Wayne’s safety and well-being,” says Mama Ellen. “We’ll continue to do that until he returns home for good.” Captain Bill, himself a veteran of World War II, took us on a party barge ride to view the gorgeous sunset over Lake Hamilton before returning to their lovely deck for grilled steaks and shrimp by candlelight.

Truly a Good News Sunday.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Day 226 - Peaceful Easy Feeling

Wayne and Lauren were 'out front' at Outback Steakhouse last night for their first meal in Hot Springs since he arrived stateside last Friday for his 15-day rest and recuperation leave. Outback General Manager Dave Hanson hosted us, congratulating Wayne and Lauren on their recent engagement and thanking Wayne for his service to our country.

After we got home, Myron turned in early, while Momma stayed up and watched Batman Begins with the kids.

Myron left early this morning to make his 7 a.m. tee time. After the rest of us slept in, we enjoyed a lazy Saturday morning breakfast, complete with all Wayne's favorites.
This afternoon, we'll start our Labor Day festivities at the 2005 Bluesfest, sponsored by the Spa City Blues Society. All proceeds will benefit Hurricane Relief.
Magic Springs will host Wayne and Lauren tonight when they join their friends for a Pat Green concert. The amuzement park is also extending free admission to all refugees and their families. (I'll be playing cello for a wedding at Garvan Woodland Gardens.)


We received an email last night from Greyhawk over at Mudville Gazette, asking us to post these helpful links for military families dealing with the aftermath of Katrina. Take time to read the story they posted today with Glenn Reynolds' comment,
"Unfortunately, (that's) how disaster planning usually works. One of my friends was in charge of disaster planning for his county -- as a college summer intern -- and I remember him saying that the goal was basically to have a document you could point to if asked, not to generate anything that would actually be used."

- Department of Defense site lists contact info for military families displaced by Katrina (also a great collection of news releases on the military efforts in hurricane relief).

- National Guard Family Program lists info for Guard families impacted by the storm.

- The Guard Experience provides info for getting deployed Guard members in touch with their families who might be displaced by the storm - and vice versa.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Day 225B - Home Sweet Home

About fifteen minutes ago, SGT Wayne West walked through the front door with his new fiancee, Lauren Ritchie. Momma's feeling a lot better now, and we're all happy campers for the moment.

We're off to Outback Steakhouse to make good on a promise for a juicy steak when Wayne got back. Red beans and rice and gumbo are ready for the weekend.

More later...

Day 225 - The Work of Life and Liberty

While Katrina roared onshore, soldiers of the 150th Engineer Battalion of Mississippi detained 12 suspected terrorists in Owesat village Monday.

Since then, Bill Martin of the Sports Information Department at LSU, has been working as a medical volunteer during the aftermath of Katrina.

Little did I know what I would be doing following Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, but as I type right now, there won’t be a more gratifying or more surreal experience (than what)I went through tonight….

I worked from 8 pm until 2:45 am. Before I left three more buses rolled in and they were almost out of room. People were standing outside...The smells, the sights were hard to take….”

A man lying down on a cot asked me to come see him. He said, "I just need someone to talk to, to tell my story, because I have nobody and nothing left.”

He turned out to be a retired military veteran. His story was what everybody was saying. He thought he had survived the worst, but woke up this morning when the levees broke. Within minutes, water rushed into his house. He climbed to the attic, smashed his way through the roof and sat there for hours. He was completely sunburned and exhausted. Nearly 12 hours later a chopper rescued him and here he was.

We finished the night hauling boxes of body bags, and more were on the way. As we left, a man was strolled in on a stretcher and scarily enough, he had suffered gunshots. The paramedic said he was shot several times because a looter or a convict needed his boat and he wouldn't give it to him. Another man with him said it was "an uncivilized society no better than Iraq down there right now." A few minutes later he was unconscious. Later, he was pronounced dead.

I left as they were strolling a 3 year old kid in on a stretcher. I couldn't take it anymore.”
Read Bill’s full account posted on University of Arkansas’s Rabid Hog Fans web site. (Hat tip to Myron for this one.)

People who want to know whether specific neighborhoods are flooded can go here.

Americans are donating millions to charitable organizations. Want to help? Network for Good provides a comprehensive list of ways to donate.

Later today, when Wayne and Lauren arrive, we'll take a load of supplies to Hot Springs' Summit Arena, where evacuees continue to arrive from ravaged areas to the south.

Update from Aunt Janet with good news about her family from Slidell:
Thanks so much for your concern and prayers. Just last night Bob's neighbor called and she got into Slidell yesterday. Bob's house is not as devastated as he expected. Looks like he got about three feet of water but it had receded, no trees on the house, only part of the roof gone. Then she want to Allen and Kathy's house and it looked fine from the front. She knocked but no one answered. But, there were piles of debris from the yard being picked up and the garbage can was in front of the house---full of wine bottles! I guess when you don't have water, drink wine. So we can definitely assume that they are OK. Thank God!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Day 224 - The Heart of America

As more than 2,000 soldiers from the Mississippi Army National Guard fanned out through their hurricane-ravaged state yesterday, conducting search-and-rescue operations and handing out ice and generators, several thousand of their comrades were unavailable for disaster relief and unable to communicate with their families. Another soldier from the 155th was killed near Iskandariyah Tuesday by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). All communications at 155th military installations are suspended until family members of the fallen soldier are notified.

Near Baghdad, reports estimate between 700-1000 religious pilgrims crossing a bridge (video) were killed in a stampede ignited by someone yelling ‘suicide bomber!’

While we may not be able to prevent hurricanes, there are safety measures you can take to avoid being injured, smothered or trampled to death when a crowd panics. (Clothing tip #3 on this web site: Leave behind dangerous accessories like spikes and chains. OK. Will do.)

Here at home, military family chat rooms are busy. Wives and mothers in areas not so directly affected by Katrina (new video) offer advice and aid to those who need help most. Finding enough gasoline to make the trek south to check on stranded families and animals is a big topic this morning. Family Readiness Group leaders are posting web sites where to find help.
Observation: Last week, Pat Robertson took a huge hit from Christian supporters for his statements implying the U.S. should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Anybody else hearing “Shoot the looters!” the last few days?

Regrettably, reports like these feed the soul of those who hate America. Our prayer is that a show of overwhelming support by the rest of the country for victims of Katrina will send a clear message the real heart of America beats with love.