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

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Day 287 - Good News Sunday

The last three days have been jam packed with magazine production. Thirteen days out of town this month have taken a heavy toll on my production schedule, a hole I’m not sure I’m out of yet, but at least I've finished the travel story about Fredericksburg, Texas. What a great town!

During the long hours at the computer this weekend, I heard the familiar Brrrring! of Yahoo Instant Messenger. Usually, it’s the quiet days that bother me, but sometimes written news gets my pulse beating faster.

“I ran over an IED yesterday,” Wayne typed much too slowly for my caffeinated mind. “That was interesting.”

“What happened??” I typed furiously.

“First, the vehicle in front of me ran over it… Then I ran over it… Then the third vehicle ran over it and it blew up right behind him. It was night, that's why we didn't see it buried in a dip in the road."

“What did you do??” I hammered.

“Kept on driving. None of the vehicles was hurt, so we kept moving. When we finally did stop, we all got in a circle and prayed.”


And that, my friends, is this week’s Good News Sunday.

(Posted at Mudville Gazette.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Day 283 - Mess, Motarville and Mastication

I've got a whole new appreciation for folks flooded by recent hurricanes. Our house was flooded with repair technicians yesterday to help straigten out the mess from a 2-inch deluge of water in our utility room, hall, kitchen and foyer caused by a faulty water pressure regulator and a stopped up drain line. Long sentence? Long day.

During the hubub of yesterday's activity, Wayne called. A little unusual, I thought, especially since I had talked with him online just the day before. After a few minutes of idle chit chat, he spurted, "Yea, we just got mortared. It was close enough for me to hear while I was working out. We all made a beeline for the bunker. Everybody's OK, though."

While I was breathing my prayers of thanksgiving, Wayne continued, "Those suckers just need to back off and leave us alone, 'cause here's what I know: Next week, I can say, NEXT MONTH, I'm coming HOME!"

And what a day of rejoicing that will be!

Wayne also said the seasons have changed in Iraq. Nights are cold, like in the 60s. That's shiverin' weather when your body has grown accustomed to 130-degree heat refected off sun-baked sand. He told me about blankets handmade by Iraqi women he bought as early Christmas presents for Lauren and me. (I gave him permission to use mine until he comes home.)

Over in south Alabama, a cool front put a nip of Fall in the air for the last day of our press tour. When the bird banding group returned to town, we all met for lunch at King Neptune's Seafood Restaurant, owned by Al and Diane Sawyer, the same folks who own Gulf Bay Seafood Grill.

Before you ever eat an oyster at King Neptune's, you drive over tons of crushed and soon-to-be-crushed oyster shells which make up the parking lot surface. General Manager Lane Gilbert estimates the former drive-up-take-out-only restaurant now serves 40 cases, or nearly 5000 raw oysters a week! That's in addition to the 250 pounds of royal red shrimp, a truly regal variety for taste and texture.

Most of our group chowed down on King Neptune's famous Po-Boy sandwiches, offered in fried shrimp or fried oyster varieties. Served with fries and your choice of potato salad or coleslaw, the wide-mouthed experience makes good use of the roll of paper towels parked at the end of each table.

Neptune guru Nick Fawal, who's been with the restaurant for 11 years, introduced us to the bottle at the other end of the table--Busha Browne's Pukka (pronounced Poo-ka) Hot Pepper Sauce. This curious blend of mangoes, raisins, onions, tamarinds, peppers and spices is definitely not for the fainthearted or anybody who hasn't heard of Scotchbonnet peppers! Yes,I was in hotsauce heaven.

We did suggest a more appropriate pronunciation for the condiment might be an Alabama drawl version of the word "pucker." That would make it "PUCK-ah."

(Posted at Mudville Gazette)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Day 281 - A Little Bird Told Me

The familiar "brrrrring" of Yahoo Instant messenger woke me at 12:36 a.m., just in time to catch Wayne online. Our brief conversation yielded the tastiest morsel of information I could imagine: a tentative date range to come home. We're keeping our fingers crossed, hoping we're actually under 60 days to his return!

Another day in the Alabama sun made for even sweeter sleep last night.

A few hops away, Bob Sargent and his Hummer Bird Study Group have just finished their 14th annual Autumn bird banding event at Fort Morgan State Historical Park. For many birds, Fort Morgan is the final stop before winter migration to the Andes Mountains, and the first landfall during spring migration north. The all-volunteer study group operates a two-week banding station each April and October.

Hummingbirds and other bird species are captured by a thin, black netting along meandering pathways. Once caught, the birds are banded, weighed, measured and photographed before being released unharmed.

Sargent says this year's event has been very successful, with the banding of over 2000 birds.

"We've been able to band a tremendous variety of neo-tropical migrant birds," he says. "Some of these birds are absolutely beautiful."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Day 280 - Flipper Bay and Magnolia Springs

The American flag at the end of our pier has been replaced by a red flag, warning beach bathers of a moderate risk of rip currents today. Serious shell seekers still combed the beaches this morning, searching for sea treasures deposited in sand redistributed by recent hurricanes. My fondest childhood memories are moments like these--waking up to the sound of the surf, smelling the salt air and watching the sun rise over the sand and the waves.

Red flags didn't stop the dolphins from running with us yesterday as we motored around Wolf Bay in a 50-foot navy patrol boat, just outside Foley, AL. Captain Ritchie Rusell of Dolphin Express Cruises tutored us to the tunes of Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett, teaching us the ways of our water mammal friends. The dolphins must have liked us, too. According to the Captain, our cruise not only produced more dolphin sightings than normal, but it also provided many more jumping dolphins than usual.

Before dancing with the dolphins, we stopped in Magnolia Springs, home of Magnolia Springs Bed & Breakfast. Owner David Worthington is purveyor of classic southern hospitality in this 100-year old home which operated as the Sunnyside Hotel during the 1920s and 30s.
Just up the street is Moore Brothers Village Market, located next door to the former Post Office. The old fashioned neighborhood store was run for 62 years by two Moore nephews: Bill, over the meat market; Jesse, in the store. Longtime residents revere the Moore's longtime traditions of dependability and generosity until the store finally closed in 1993.

Magnolia Springs native Charlie Hauser moved back to his hometown in 1996, after having bought back the family place in 1987.

"One of the Moores co-signed a $500 loan for me to go to college," he recalls. "I never forgot that."

Charlie Hauser re-opened Moore Brothers General Merchandise under the Village Market name in 1998. What started as a meat market expanded to include Jesse's restaurant when the old Post Office property became available. During lunch yesterday, Jesse's was packed with people who have already discovered the elixer of 'love on a platter' served up by the loyal staff at Jesse's.

Having enclosed the space between the market and restaurant, Hauser is now expanding his waiting area to include seated and standing bars, plus five indoor and five outdoor tables for even more casual dining.

Last night's casual dining for our group of journalists was hosed by Chef Greg Buschmohle, owner of Bayside Grille. Before dinner, Alabama Gulf Coast CVB's Public Relations Manager, Bebe Gauntt, presented a gift for Wayne 'in aprreciation for his military sacrifice and service on behalf of the United States.'

"Please tell Wayne how much we value what he is doing, and thank him on behalf of all of us here on the Alabama Gulf Coast," she said. "Congratulations to him and his fiancee on their upcoming marriage, and tell them to come see us soon!"

Friday, October 21, 2005

Day 279 - Coasting Through the Week

Sunrise on the Alabama Gulf Coast signals hope tourists will resume their annual treks to enjoy the sand and surf. For us, it means we're one day closer to Wayne's return and his wedding to Lauren at Seaside, Florida next summer.

A group of us journalists arrived in Gulf Shores late yesterday afternoon, just in time for a short walk on the beach before dinner at Gulf Bay Seafood Grille, owned by Al and Diane Sawyer and operated by a fiercely loyal group employees, all Birmingham transplants. The casual restaurant lives up to its reputation for some of the finest seafood on the coast, served in plenteous portions with a roll of paper towels on the side.

Classic Southern best describes the culinary style where 'deep fried' is one of the five basic food groups. "We'll deep fry a paper napkin if you want us to!" said BeBe Gauntt, our host from the Alabama Gulf Coast CVB.

General Manager Rodney Calo warned us locals take their seafood seriously, especially oysters. Rest assured, the oysters at Gulf Bay definitely pass the taste test for freshness and flavor.

Before we could catch our breath, the next wave of food arrived. Billed as Neptune's Seafood Platter, the $80 house specialty consists of one pound of King Crab Legs, a one-pound Snow Crab Cluster, a one-pound Dungeness Cluster, plus a pound of Royal Red Shrimp with boiled potatoes and corn. That's on top of four cups of gumbo and a dozen oysters, which we had already eaten. To feed four, it's actually a great deal of food for a great price.

For dessert, Rodney pitched the Deep Fried Cheesecake. Noting our journalistic skepticism, he told us how they dip a dense New York cheesecake slice in buttermilk, roll it in crushed cornflake crumbs and then refreeze it before it is deep fried, drained and drenched in a homemade caramel pecan sauce.

After dinner, we invented a new gastronomic phrase: "I feel gorgeous." Sounds much better than, "I have gorged myself on so much food I can hardly walk."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Day 278 - Big Babies

Sometimes I tell people having a son in Iraq is a lot like being pregnant. Time is measured by a different clock. Somehow our situation seems unique. Emotions are unpredictable as the weather.

Yesterday, I got drenched by a couple of emotionally scattered showers.

While I was teaching piano at St. Luke's, a 6-foot-plus blue-eyed young man wandered into the classroom. Right behind him was one of the teachers, Mrs. Bouldin, who introduced the handsome guy under the crewcut as John Paul, her son...the one home from Iraq, scheduled to redeploy to Japan.

Boom! Here came the flood of tears. And why not? I've been praying for this soldier all year!

The late night shower came when I received the following email from Teresa, my sister in Atlanta, sharing her bedtime conversation with Sarah, Wayne's 7-year-old cousin.

Tonight Sarah was very quiet, so I asked if she were OK. She was thinking about Wayne, worried about Wayne, crying for Wayne. When I asked what she was thinking, she responded, "I know he's doing a good thing, but the hard part is knowing he's far away from home and doing soldier work."

As little as she sees or talks to him, they're connected. You've a special boy and I've a special girl.

Wayne was in our prayers tonight...
Yep, Iraqi pregnancies affect the whole family.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Day 277 - Away from Home and Around the World

October is a busy travel research month for me. The first week, I spent five days jaw-dropped among the people and places in Fredericksburg, Texas. Last week, eight miles from Seaside, I waltzed through four days at Rosemary Beach, Florida. Far from typical destination travel, this community has dubbed itself “A Place for Giving.”

Unfortunately, neither the cozy Das Keidel Inn Bed & Breakfast nor the welcoming Winston Carriage House was equipped with high speed Internet. You might say blogging sort of fell by the seaside.

The Palm Treo came in handy for sending quick answers to urgent questions during magazine production, and for asking Wayne to keep us updated on his safety, particularly around the time Iraqis would be preparing to vote on their new constitution. I remember the night (their day) of the 15th. I woke up nearly every hour, praying for Wayne and his fellow soldiers.
“Yes, we are safe and, your prayers were definitely answered,” he emailed back.

“Right across the river is a marine firm base, kind of like the checkpoint we have set up out there, and every night, and even during the day, we hear artillery being shot, mortars landing, and watch tracer rounds flying all over the place as those marines are shooting their weapons. We have even had some of the guys say they've seen tracers fly over the river in our direction from them shooting over there.”

“Anyway, the night before voting day on the 15th, my buddy and I had the first shift for guard duty. We had ournight vision goggles, machine gun, M4 rifles, and XS Energy Drinks. Like everyone else, we were ready for anything, especially since we had gotten word some 40-50 VBIEDs (Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices) were driving around different FOBs (Forward Operating Bases).”

“Because of a threat the FOB might get attacked, we weren't even going to be re-supplied with a hot meal the next morning. So the intersection that we were manning w! as shut down; no walkers or vehicles period.”

“Well, the night went by, voting day came, voting night came, but not a mortar, artillery, machine gun, or personal weapon was heard. It was surreal how quiet it was. Here we were, expecting it to be the liveliest day and night since we had been there. Instead, we got the extreme opposite. Totally quiet. No cars anywhere. No weapons being fired, even from the marines on the other side of the river. Just total peace.”
That was a few days ago. This morning, news alerts report another US soldier, this time from the 56th Brigade Combat Team, was killed yesterday. Two more were wounded. Although these soldiers are not part of Wayne’s unit, we do pray for their families during this difficult time.

Tomorrow, I leave for the Alabama Gulf Coast to report on areas not affected by recent hurricanes, hoping to encourage tourists to schedule their spring and summer trips now. Don’t yet know about availability of high speed Internet. Stay tuned...

(We'll post this one over at Mudville Gazette to let folks know we're still kickin'!)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Day 258 - Death of a Daily Journal

SGT Wayne West and SFC Kevin Kelly

Well. it started over the weekend when First Sergeant Kevin Kelly posted this entry to his Daily Journal:
I finished eating and then went back to my can to relax a few minutes and then to try to pack up some more stuff. I had been in there about 10 minutes when I heard what sounded like a hiss and then an explosion. We had someone shoot a rocket at us. It didn't get close to anyone, but it sure got everyone moving around getting into the bunkers. Everyone was safe and sound. Hadn't had that happen in a while so got everyone's senses back. I'll be glad to be back home and be in my house and not worry about something being shot over my house and exploding in my yard. After everything had cooled back down I went back to packing.
And it ended like this:
October 03, 2005 -

This morning CPT Cager woke me up early to tell me that he and I needed to go see the battalion commander. I got up there to find out that I had alarmed some people by writing about us getting the rocket fired at us. I guess some of the families didn't want to know about that and I apologize if I alarmed you. That is why I said it didn't get close to anyone. There were also some concerns about operations security and what insurgents could gather to use against us.

I honestly didn't think that I was saying something that would cause problems or I wouldn't have said it. I have known people that have been reduced in rank for something similar and that is something that I can't afford for writing an email. No one told me I had to stop writing the journal, but I just can't take that chance of anything being taken out of context or cause someone to be killed or injured. What I think of as not being a security concern could be by the battalion commander or someone else and that would put my career in jeopardy. I will continue to write my daily email but only to my family and close friends back home.

I have been blessed to have met so many people on here that have sent me emails. I have joked around a lot about writing a book and I plan on doing it when I get home. I may only sell 1 copy, but it is something that I have always wanted to do and I think that this is my opportunity. I can promise you in the book though I will give a lot more details than I have on here. I once got an email from my wife after we had talked about a mission one time and then she read my journal entry and she said it was like two different things and it was nice not to alarm people. I have got emails from people from MS, AL, TN, TX, CA, NV, NY, MO and many more states. I will never forget when we had the 36,000 people hit the website in one month. It's great that we got so much support for the battalion.

I have always added to my email that I will write more later or tomorrow, but I won't be saying it in the journal. I hope that everyone has a great week. Thank you for the many thoughts and prayers for the battalion as well as myself. It has truly been a pleasure, but I value my career a lot more than a journal and hope that you understand. May God bless you and look forward to meeting some of you when I get back home. God Bless, Kevin

This is my email address if you ever get the chance to send an email to keep in touch. KevinGolfs AT aol DOT com
No, Kevin. I want the address of the battalion commander.

(Note: For our new or casual readers, SFC Kelly was our lifeline to Camp Dogwood. As I often commented to Wayne, Kevin told us all the things Mommas want to know: What did you have to eat today? What’s the weather like? Sleeping arrangements OK? Did you go to church? How are your adopted children doing? Other soldiers doing OK?)

It’s going to be awfully, awfully quiet now. And now a very long and lonely wait until January. Unless maybe Phil can pick up the slack.

We’ll miss you, Kevin. More than you know.

(Also posted at Mudville Gazette.)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Day 257 - Brain Food

The 155th INBN was busy last week, uncovering another huge weapons cache consisting of nearly 400 artillery rounds from a site actively used by insurgents.

In a letter to 155th families, the company commander said:

We were able to locate this cache through aerial surveillance. We detained one insurgent at the location attempting to gather bomb making material. It took our Explosive Ordnance Detachment a full day to dispose of the artillery rounds. In addition to discovering this cache, we detained nine more known insurgents.

Also, this week, we conducted a joint food distribution with the
Iraqi Army to over 100 families. They issued 350 cases of milk products, 400 canned food products, 400-500 variety of cakes, condiments (salt, pepper, butter, cups) and 50 boxes of snack products. Over the past two weeks, our soldiers and the Iraqi Police have delivered over 5,000 school backpacks to local schools.

Our Physiological Team received 22,000 backpacks donated by organizations in the U.S. We plan to visit every school in this area and distribute these backpacks along with other school supplies to local students. These students will always remember these acts of generosity by U.S. soldiers, which will enhance future relationships with Iraq.

Thank you again for your continued support.

1-155TH IN BN, 155TH BCT

Dozens of families from Hot Springs participated in School Kit drives, among them the Nybergs and the Fleishners. I guess I'm somewhat partial to these little ones because Grace and Sophie are my piano students!

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Day 256 - Good News Sunday

"For behold! I have received a text message!

Thursday, I mentioned our first hint of Fall . Saturday, I ran across another blog, apparently written by a talented New Orleanian sheltering in Hot Springs after Kat-Rita. Esme Fachon said what I really meant:

It has been exactly one week since the first day of fall, and already there is a change. The transformation is modest—Autumn is shy as a deer, lingering in the thicket of Evening and Dawn. The afternoon sun is still bright and hot, but there is some undefinable alteration in the quality of light. Something that makes everything look like a photograph. The transition from summer to fall always makes me feel nostalgic, like all around me, my life is happening, and I want to remember all of it.
Over in Mississippi, the editors at Millsaps Magazine have published an article about Wayne’s deployment in their current issue.
To read it, click on the link below.
Scroll down to Departments...Then Campus.
Double click “In The Spotlight.”
When the page opens, click the Forward Arrow at the bottom to page 7.
Ready to read the article? Click here.
From Iraq, the commander of our 155th Mississippi National Guard unit says they have captured an insurgent suspected of killing a Michigan soldier during an August firefight. Army Capt. Lowell Miller II was killed during an attack in Iskandariyah, Iraq, training soldiers for the Iraqi Army.

"But he absolutely loved what he did. He loved being in the military. He loved training soldiers," said his wife Angela, a First Lieutenant in the Michigan National Guard who served in Egypt in 2004. The Flints have two daughters, ages 11 and 7.

Here at home, we’re having a little weekend fun helping a Holly over at Mudville Gazette make a point to a friend who hosts an AM radio talk show: People read blogs.
I'd like to send him some emails from bloggers and blog readers. I've set up the link below to automatically create an email from you to him, CC to me.. .The text of the email is, "Hi Chris, I heard through blogger Holly Aho you are questioning the power of blogs. I'm a blogger/blog reader. Her blog post requests that we send you a few emails to show how blogs are read and heard. Here's my email!"
Wanna play? Holly has Chris's email address linked here.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Day 255 - THE Rock of the Cradle

A journalist for the Cincinnati Post thinks if Iraq slips toward civil war, Iskandaryia, a town along the Sunni-Shiite fault line, will be one of the flash points. Iskandaryia, by the way, is the closest town to Wayne's base.
“Talking to U.S. troops at a base near here, you come away with a sense of what the war looks like out in the killing zone - and how hard it is to mesh U.S. strategy with the nightmarish reality of the Iraqi insurgency.”
Moving toward October 15, when Iraqis have a historic opportunity to vote on a new constitution, we will continue to pray as we did during the days leading up to their first Election Day on January 31.

No Triangle of Death. No Sunni-Shiite fault line. No flash points.

We pray ‘that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened in order that they may know the hope to which (God) has called them, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.’ (Ephesians 1:18)

Texas National Guardsman John Upperman, blogging from Iraq, believes in the cause of freedom:
"As we were leaving (Saddam’s palace), I overheard my brigade commander telling someone that people will one day pay thousands of dollars to visit this area and see what we had just seen. Obviously that can only happen once the country is stable and secure. I believe he is right."

"I stood in the place where the cradle of civilization branched out into the rest of the world. Now it is time for us to bring civilization back."
(Read his entire post.)