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.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Day 2006

Movement in Space
A poem by George Monta

Time, elusive arbiter of destiny,
Crucifies thought while parading through my conscience,
A value to be conserved, to never waste:
"Keep the 'oil' bright and thus be wise,
Imperfect One."

Time, concoction of demented measure seekers,
Show me the meanings of my urgent need to measure,
Why finite man, escaping to infinity,
Must count the measureless steps,
While spouting thoughtless thoughts,
Spouting scientific pratings with the assurance of priests
Who mesmerize the simple and slay the wise.

Time must be the power of man to move,
And in the moving to perceive his motions
With their meanings:
Time, existence, the framework
Of a Timeless cosmos,
Motion, heat, a bird in frightened flight,
A half remembered primal Light,
The Child's dreams and then the Night.

Oh, Man of time-bound sense,
Release your grip
On Time's deceptive surety.
Relax your hurried pace; tomorrow surely comes.
'Tis the watching makes you miss its slender hope.

Spring is tomorrow's other Life.
Awaken, bound off across the hills of dreams,
Back or forth in the sea of Time,
Not counting clouds or clods,
Man is as God if he but opens half his strangled grip.

Love not time, it's not what it seems to be:
It simply sings its web into the meshes of man's mind
Who finally dies; Time's finale.
And then the Morning's light again.

Let go of Time. It authors not one word.
It measures not extent of good or bad,
Of God, or man.
It binds man's soul to food and rent,
It keeps the Nomad in his tent.

Let go of time, breathe deep
The Power freedom's birth must bring.

The Morning Star reflects
The Song that we must sing!

© 2005 George Monta

Dr. George Monta, my friend and mentor, lives in North Carolina with his wife, Adaire. A WWII veteran of campaigns in the South Pacific, he taught in high school and college for 25 years, and pastored two churches for 12 years. Currently retired, he and Adaire now travel and teach.

Dr. Monta will help to officiate Wayne's wedding in June.
To see the Army's 2005 Year in Photos, click here.
(Hat tip to
Some Soldier's Mom.)

Wrapped in the Arms of Love

Among the women most happy to see Wayne's safe return was my mother, affectionately known to everybody as GG. Over the years, her prayers and encouragement have carried our family through many valleys, but perhaps none more personally intense than 2005.
Thanks, Mom.

Somebody asked, "What are you going to do with the blog, now that Wayne is home?"

I'm still not quite sure how to answer that question. How do you say goodbye to the thousands of visitors we've met here this year, or to all the friends we've made in the extended milblog community?

We could start counting the 158 days to Wayne and Lauren's rehearsal dinner and wedding at Seaside, Florida.

In the mean time, I'll just start working on my taxes...

Friday, December 30, 2005

Day 344 - What You Say Is What You Get

Journalists walking with me through the Matagorda County Birding & Nature Center last month couldn’t understand how a tree could make a woman cry.
(Click on the tree to get a better look. Use your Back Button to continue reading.

Well, who else but a military mom would think, That camo tree reminds me what my son will look like holding his arms out to hug me when he comes home in a few weeks?

Did I see it before it happened? You bet.
Did anybody else get it? I doubt it.

Despite more than fifty years of investigation, the issue of whether, and to what degree, language influences thought is still hotly debated. According to Dr. Debi Roberson, professor of psychology at the University of Essex, recognition of certain colors is influenced by the words you have to describe them.

The relativist theory may help to explain, for example, why some native English-speaking children, familiar with the rainbow of colors in the Crayola 64-pack, actually can tell rust from brick and moss from sage, while children who grow up speaking languages with fewer color names lump such hues together. Or why tribes without names for numbers cannot count.

Most authorities agree whether or not a language distinguishes between green and blue influences the perception of these colors. By extension, language influences the way we perceive the world.

Although the Korean language makes no distinction between the singular and the plural, native Korean artist Do-Ho Suh straddles the divide between the singular and the collective in his sculpture,
Blue Green Bridge.

From a distance, Suh's Bridge looks like one solid mass of color. The perception of two colors, blue and green, is dependent solely on the viewer's movement through space to gaze more closely on the work.

Journalist blogger Michael Yon explores how perceptions are influenced by pictures and words by comparing two slide shows—both accurate, each limited in scope. Although the differences are subtle, perhaps purely rhetorical, Yon believes the consequent impact, and how it influences public opinion, is something closer to cataclysmic.

It’s interesting to compare these two montages. The first from an unattributed source, perhaps even a work of propaganda, shows people at their best, braving terrorists to vote in Iraq, then dipping their fingers in the purple ink, and smiling with pride, strength and hope. The second montage by MSNBC, conveys the ultra-violence of nature against man, the cruelty of man against man, and helps explain why we want the world to be more like the impression we are left with after the “propaganda” montage.
Curious? Click here to read his entire post and watch the two montages.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides this formula: “Large differences in language lead to large differences in thought."

Maybe that’s why the Bible applauds Noah, who acted by faith when he built the ark, since rain wasn’t yet in his weather vocabulary.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Day 343 - On the Fifth Day of Christmas

Having reported back to Camp Shelby Monday, Wayne called yesterday afternoon while standing in line to complete another assignment in the long list of requirements for demobilization from Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Mississippi Army National Guard.

Just now, Wayne called again to say he has officially signed out of the base, permanently closing the door on his 16-month chapter of active duty.

“WAAAAAAAAAAAHOOOOOOO!” he shouted. “It’s REALLY over now!”

Wayne went on to say he and Lauren are driving back to Louisiana to make preparations for a “Meet Wayne” party at her parents’ home tomorrow night.

During his four-day pass for Christmas, Wayne started the round of holiday visits with Myron and me at the home of Blair and Leslie Bingham, my brother and sister-in-law who live in Jackson, Mississippi.
In honor of Wayne’s homecoming, the Binghams served our traditional Christmas breakfast on the morning of the 23rd.

Click here to watch a short video of Wayne introducing our favorites:
(This is my first try at vlogging. After opening the link,
click the Play arrow...maybe more than once.)

Padow’s Country Ham
Aunt Les’s Famous Christmas Cream Cheese Braids
Shared with her permission!

1 c. sour cream
½ c. sugar
1 t. salt
2 pkgs. dry yeast
½ c. warm water
2 eggs, beaten
4 c. all purpose flour

Heat sour cream over low heat. Stir in sugar, salt and butter.
Cool the mixture to lukewarm temperature.

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast into warm water. Add a pinch of sugar to the water to aid the yeast’s growing. Stir until yeast is dissolved. Add sour cream mixture, eggs and flour. Mix well. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, divide dough into 4 parts. Roll each part onto a well-floured board, making 4 rectangles.

2- 8 oz pkgs of softened cream cheese
¾ c. sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/8 t. salt
2 t. vanilla

Combine sugar and cheese in a small bowl. Add egg and vanilla.
Mix well.

Spread ¼ of the cream cheese filling on each dough rectangle. Beginning on the long side of the rectangle, roll dough in jellyroll fashion. Pinch short ends and slightly fold under. Place rolls seam-side down on a greased baking sheet. Slit each roll about 2/3 of the way through the dough at 2 inch intervals to resemble a braid.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size,
approximately one hour.

Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes.
Cool slightly and spread with glaze.

2 c. powdered sugar
4 Tbls. Milk
2 t. vanilla

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Day 342 - All Over But the Shoutin'

The pair of police officers who stopped to steer traffic around my car
15 miles outside Hot Springs last Monday night were especially eager to help fix the flat tire once they learned I was en route to Mississippi for Wayne's homecoming from Iraq. Having completed their own stints of full time military service, Corporal Bryan Ray and Officer James Tallent of the Malvern, Ark. Police Department assisted me with courteous professional efficiency, asking in return only that I relay their thanks to Wayne for his service on behalf of our country.

Back on the road by 7:30, I knew it would be midnight before I arrived at my brother's house in Jackson, 100 miles north of Camp Shelby.

When I finally showed up, Wayne's fiancee, Lauren, and his two cousins, Kimbell and Blair Marie, were monitoring his flight into Bangor, Maine on the internet.

By 1 a.m., text messages were flying, and all us girls were squealing with excitement, knowing Wayne was finally back on American soil for good.

Wayne called as soon as their plane reached the gate, filling us in on the soldiers' schedule until we could see them at Camp Shelby. Relieved and tired, I headed for bed, while Lauren and the cousins stayed awake, chatting with Wayne until nearly 3 a.m.

Two hours later, we crowded the bathroom, slapping makeup on sleep-deprived eyes and gulping coffee to jumpstart the adrenaline we needed for the early morning drive to Hattiesburg.

Once in the car, it was hard to be calm or quiet. We skimmed through a Jock Jams CD, looking for appropriate music to play on our boom box when the soldiers started getting off the busses.

Halfway to Hattiesburg, Lauren's cell phone rang. The troops were on the move from Gulfport to Camp Shelby, scheduled to arrive from the south at nearly the same time we would arrive from the north.

"I can't believe it's almost over," Lauren whispered, breathy with anticipation.

By 8:30 Tuesday morning, we were inside the gate at Camp Shelby, never realizing we passed right by 268 soldiers who had arrived in busses minutes earlier.

In a few more minutes, we joined hundreds of friends and family members huddled against the wind whipping between the barracks on 31st Street. Girlfriends strutted in stilettos, children lingered on the lawn and parents cradled their coffee during the final hour of waiting.

"WE'RE ON OUR WAY!" read the next text message from Wayne on Lauren's phone. "WE'll BE THERE IN ABOUT 10 MINUTES!"

Word spread through the camp like wildfire. Children were hoisted to strong men's shoulders. Women pulled out their tissues. Families poured from the warmth of the hospitality room to greet their soldiers.

"They're coming!!" someone shouted, wide-eyed and wishful.

For a split second, everything went silent as ears strained to hear the escort siren. Friends and families scurried to line the road where the busses would eventually park.

Suddenly, thunderous applause and raucous cheering split the air. The first bus appeared! A once orderly crowd now bounced around like BB's dropped on a concrete floor as families frantically searched for their loved ones.

One by one, much too slowly it seemed, soldiers stepped off the bus. Lauren spotted Wayne by the pillow tucked under his arm.

The next few minutes seemed like a parenthetical segment of an old movie...blurred by tears, silent because words wouldn't do, intensely close...
all in slow motion.

We waited patiently and respectfully while Lauren hugged Wayne, who was still clutching his proverbial pillow. At the end of that precious moment, Wayne turned to the family, threw his arms out wide and announced in characteristic Wayne-O fashion,
"OK, let's have kisses! Step right up, folks!"

Recently, I told one of my friends how hugging Wayne that day felt like a funeral in reverse. Instead of burying him, I received my son back from the grave. Waves of emotion held in check all year came gushing out. Each time I tried to pull away, I sobbed uncontrollably, thinking of other mothers whose sons didn't come home alive. Finally, when it seemed like enough, I passed him on to the rest of the family.

Eventually, everybody got their turn with Wayne before we walked with him to pick up his belongings.

On the way to the barracks, we passed our friend, SFC Kevin Kelly and Wayne's battle buddy,
SGT Patrick Bacon.

I hoped to have met many more of the men from Alpha Company who spent the year at Camp Dogwood with Wayne, but everybody had already wrapped up, prepared to make their individual journeys home for Christmas.

And what a Christmas it was. A new friend, musician and blogger,
James Hooker, sent this original song as a gift to all of us:
I wrote this for Wayne and all the other Waynes. Just got it uploaded...All Over But The Shoutin'.

Merry Christmas from me to you and Wayne and all the other Wayne's Moms and Waynes...
or sumthin' like that!

Thanks, Wayne.

James Hooker

(OK, if you didn't listen to James's song, here's the bait. He's co-founder of Grammy Award-winning "The Amazing Rhythm Aces" and current bandleader for Nancy Griffeth.)

More tomorrow...

(Linked at Mudville Gazette.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Day 336 - Hallelujah Chorus!

What does THIS smile say??

Five hundred thrity-five days after Wayne reported to active duty, he returned from Iraq this morning at 6:02.

Words cannot express our joy at his homecoming, our gratitude for his service, our humility for his safety.

We'll check in tomorrow, once I get to a high-speed internet location, to share more pictures of the glorious reunion!!

Thanks again, over and over, to all our family and friends who prayed with us and for us during the last 16 months.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Day 334 - One Day Closer

Our subdivision is a popular drive-through neighborhood for light-seers during the Holidays. We're taking advantage of the extra traffic to show our appreciation to all those who have supported Wayne and us during his deployment this year.

Actually, we're all so excited, we feel like dancing, so we're taking lessons from THIS GUY at the Air Force Academy!

Jingle Bells! Jingle Bells! Jingle ALL THE WAY!!

P.S. If you didn't click on "THIS GUY," go back, do not pass Go, and do not collect $200.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Day 333 - Changing of the Guard

An historic 70 percent of Iraqi voters turned out to vote in their most recent election.

According to Jack Kelly’s commentary today in the Washington Times, the first person to vote in Babylon in the Iraqi parliamentary election was 65-year-old Jasim Hameed, who is wheelchair-bound.
"I'm here at this early hour because I want to challenge the terrorists who want to kill the democratic process in Iraq and I want to encourage the healthy people to vote," Mr. Hameed said. Because Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, threatened to kill those who cast ballots, Mr. Hamid was risking his life.

In a communique issued election eve, Mr. Zarqawi vowed to "ruin the democratic wedding of heresy and immorality."

The threats were not idle. The police in Babil Province caught two brothers with 72 mines and improvised explosive devices who planned to plant them on the approaches to the polling stations, reported an Iraqi correspondent on the scene.

Despite the threats, turnout was so great, the hours for voting had to be extended in many places to accommodate people waiting in line.
Be sure to watch the video of Iraq’s election posted by blogger journalist Michael Yon.

(According to the Arkansas Secretary of State's Office, less than NINE percent of Arkansas voters cast ballots in the statewide special election held last week!)

One military recruiter posts a particularly good list of other things our soldiers have helped to accomplish. (I’ve saved this one in the sidebar under "Reference Helps.")

Finally, here’s a timely reminder from Some Soldier’s Mom, the blogger mother of an injured soldier, encouraging us to include wounded warriors in our Christmas card lists. It's still not too late to zip off a few words of encouragement!

Here's the address...
A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20307-5001
But before you sign off, take a minute to smile while reading about War News Radio, a weekly half-hour show broadcast on the Swarthmore campus station, and podcast over the Web, where it draws as many as 3000 listeners a day. The show’s stated aim is to “rediscover the voices of real people” in Iraq.

Interviewed by The New Yorker, editor Amelia Templeton, a senior history major, estimates that she has spoken with twenty-five Iraqis over the past year, and now, as she said the other day, “it’s a bad idea to ask me about Iraq unless you plan on listening for a while.”
(Full story here.)

Today’s Wayne update brought to you by the letter K.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Day 332 - Message of Thanks from LTC John Rhodes

Wayne serves with the 150th Engineer Battalion, a part of the 155th Brigade Combat Team (link includes video of partial homecoming), which also includes the 155th Infantry Battalion. Many wives and mothers of these soldiers have become my friends this year through online conversations on military family discussion boards.

This is the final message from Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes, who will be one of the last soldiers with the 155th to return to the States in January. We send prayers for all those who continue to serve with him until their safe return to American soil.

To the Families and Friends of the 1-155th IN BN
(Mississippi Rifles):

As we begin to depart Iraq, I want to express my appreciation for the overwhelming support we received during this deployment.

I have had the privilege of serving with the best that America has to offer. It is truly remarkable what these great soldiers have accomplished. They have endured being away from their families for almost eighteen months; served in a hostile environment where they encountered hostile attacks regularly; mourned the loss of their comrades; and suffered through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Yet through it all, they have remained dedicated to their mission. Iraq is a better country because of their efforts. The Iraqi citizens will always remember the generosity demonstrated by these professionals.

These soldiers crossed the forward edge of freedom and faced the dangers of war to preserve America's way of life. They did not risk their lives for fame or fortune. They did it because this is who they are and what they represent. America is the "Home of the Brave," and I've had the honor of serving with them. These soldiers are the modern day "Mississippi Rifles" who have carried on the great traditions of this proud Infantry Regiment.

I thank the fine families of these soldiers. Your efforts are as commendable as those who served in Iraq. No one understands the hardships of war more than a soldier's family. For 18 months, your lives have been disrupted as you have had to bear the burden of taking care of your family. You have been forced to assume the role of both Mother and Father and provide comfort to your children. Your resilience and courage during Hurricane Katrina is a true testament to us all. You have fought the harder battle, and I am forever grateful for your enduring support. From day one, we were in this all together and your contributions were vital to our success.

I thank our wonderful Family Support Groups and Family Assistance Coordinators. You were the critical link between us and our families. I relied often on you to communicate with the families and media back home. Every time we asked for assistance, you delivered. During Hurricane Katrina, you went above the call of duty by contacting our family members and making sure they were safe. You brought relief for many soldiers who went days without knowing the status of their family. You functioned in a major role for this battalion, and your efforts were essential to our success.

I thank our communities for their great support. We received countless letters, cards, and packages from friends, churches, schools, and community groups. Your generous donations served a critical need and provided comfort to our lives. Many of you provided school supplies, candy, clothing, and other items for the Iraqi children. These children will always remember the kind acts that you displayed. There was never any doubt that the people back home supported us and kept us in their thoughts and prayers. This constant reminder was a major factor in maintaining our morale throughout this deployment.

I thank the Mississippi National Guard for providing comfort and assistance to our families in need, especially during Hurricane Katrina. You made every effort to locate and contact our family members, cleaned up storm debris in their yards, and coordinated lodging for those who had to relocate due to damages. You were also there to assist the families of our fallen comrades and soldiers who were seriously wounded. It was a great comfort knowing that you were available to support in any way.

I thank the local media outlets for regularly publishing and broadcasting many of our stories over the past year. You greatly supplemented communication with our loved ones and friends back home. You kept the public abreast with our situation and accurately informed them about our experiences. We and our communities are grateful for your contributions.

Lastly, I pay tribute to our fallen comrades. The most difficult thing that I encountered during this deployment was contacting the family members of these fallen heroes. It was a true blessing to talk to these families. I was in awe of their enduring strength and tremendous courage. They provided me encouragement and the will to carry on with our mission.

As we leave Iraq, a part of us will always remain here. A sense of guilt is felt by each surviving soldier; wondering why he was privileged enough to be reunited with his family, and 11 of our brothers were not? Only GOD can answer that question. Each one was special and unique to us. They left behind young wives, small children, and a host of friends. They sacrificed everything to give a better life to other people. They are heroes because how they lived and what they believed. They answered the call of duty and devoted their lives for America.

America is what it is today, because of the Almighty GOD and people like these outstanding soldiers. Their spirit will always live through us and their legacy will carry on through the Defenders of this great Nation. We thank GOD for allowing them to share their lives with us and ask that HE will continue to bless their families.

(Click on names to read more about each hero.)

SPC Daniel Varnado

SPC Bryan Barron

SGT Drew Rahaim

SGT Timothy Osbey

SGT Shane Pugh

SPC Robert McNail

CPL Audrey Lunsford

SSG Saburant "Sabot" Parker

CPT Tom Miller

MAJ Greg Fester

LT Robert Oneto-Sikorski

We few, we happy few,
band of brothers;
For he today
that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.
William Shakespeare

Thank you again
for your continued support.

1-155TH IN BN, 155TH BCT

(Thanks to Lynn of Senatobia for many of the soldier's pictures.)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Day 331 - Thank a Soldier Week

The day after Iraqi elections, the folks over at Mudville Gazette published the text of a speech by Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, encouraging Americans to participate in
Thank a Soldier Week.

As a member of Congress, I have had the unique opportunity to visit your battlefields and witness your many successes. Each week, you are capturing terrorists, rebuilding communities, and giving people around the world the chance to experience opportunities that only exist in free nations. Although the media rarely reports your victories, I strongly believe that the American people recognize that you are making tremendous progress.
The threat of terrorism is not temporary and your service will remain essential for years to come. We will continue to stand behind you and to entrust you with the duty of protecting our country and our families. As you resolve crises and destroy the enemies of democracy throughout the world, you reflect precisely why we must prevail in this war. You are the definition of decency, the embodiment of excellence, and the meaning of strength. Your presence abroad is securing our safety at home.
American soldiers are risking their lives all over the globe defending America's interests and defending the freedoms that many of us take for grantedDuring Thank a Soldier Week (December 19-25), we join to encourage Americans to stop for a moment and give thanks to the men and women risking everything for us. Messages to Thank a Soldier will be randomly distributed to soldiers separated from their families during the holiday season.

To thank Wayne personally, post a comment. Wayne usually checks in daily.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Day 330 - O Christmas Tree

As a token of Christmas cheer and support for Wayne, this picture of a patriotic tree was sent from Kim Everhart, former volunteer coordinator for the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. The tree is one of seven Christmas trees decorating her home on Lake Hamilton .
“I have to tell you, I am not a blogger fan,” she began her email. “I have never gotten into them. But I thoroughly enjoy yours, though I feel like I am peeking into your diary. I’m attaching a photo of Monte’s red, white and blue tree that we always put in his office here. Also, Chelsea collects nutcrackers and her middle name is Liberty, so when I saw the ‘Liberty’ nutcracker (the same as your 2005 one) I bought him! Weird, huh?”
Although Camp Dogwood is being closed, kudos are still pouring in about the great job performed by soldiers of the 155th Brigade Combat Team under the command of Brig. Gen. Augustus Collins.

Collins' soldiers confiscated enemy weapons caches containing 18,000 munitions, which has helped to reduce the effectiveness of terrorist attacks in the area.
"We've taken a lot of the things that the enemy was using against us to try to kill or hurt our soldiers," Collins explained, "so now they don't have as robust an inventory of things to use as they once did."
Collins said Iraqi soldiers and police are taking a larger role in security operations in his area of operations. In fact, the Iraq police and army now have responsibility for security in the city of Najaf, he said.
"They have done a great job," Collins said, "as far as being able to provide a safe and secure environment for the people of Najaf." Many buildings have been renovated in Najaf, and the markets are open, he said.

"Everything is going in the right direction as far as Najaf is concerned," the general said, noting that religious pilgrims have begun returning to Najaf to visit its famous shrine.
Collins said his troops helped to renovate part of the Najaf Teaching Hospital that now treats 400 patients daily. And after renovations, the city's soccer stadium reopened in October for a game between the Baghdad and Najaf clubs, he said, that attracted 20,000 spectators.

We're proud of the legacy our soldiers are building with the people in Iraq. In a short email from Wayne this morning, he said despite some projects being on hold right now, things are moving in the right direction.

More than two-thirds of Iraqi voters turned out in the country's landmark election, according to first estimates Friday. The smattering of violence didn't appear to discourage Iraqis, some of whom turned out wrapped in their country's flag on a sunny day and afterward displayed a purple ink-stained index finger.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Day 329 - A Personal Message for SGT Wayne West

Hey, Wayne!
We just want to know one thing...
click HERE .

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Day 328B - Five Weird Habits of a Quirky Journalist

OK, I’m not sure how I missed it, but ArmyWifeToddlerMom tagged me a few days ago with the “Five Weird Habits” meme.

Before I started to think about my answers, I had to look up “meme” to make sure I knew what I was doing.

Meme (meem) n.
A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.

OK, here goes:

1. When I read a newspaper, I read it front to back, one section at a time. When finished, I reassemble the entire paper in sequential order. I will share the entire newspaper; I do not share sections of the paper while I’m reading.

2. I don’t borrow books, because I like to highlight sections and write in the margins.

3. I balance my checkbook at least once a week.

4. I prefer a good fountain pen to any other writing instrument.

5. I sleep with three pillows--one under my head, one between my knees and one hugged to my chest--next to an open window, a bottle of water and the same travel alarm clock I bought to take with me to the hospital when Wayne was born, 22 years ago!

...and this is the best thing I could think of to pass the time waiting to hear the next piece of news from Wayne.

Day 328 - Find Us Faithful

For the past several days, our email boxes have been flooded with news announcing the arrival of the first two waves of soldiers returning from active duty with the 155th Brigade Combat Team. During their tour in Iraq, the soldiers conducted more than 500 operations ranging from the brigade level down to company- and platoon-level participation.

Brig. Gen. Augustus L. Collins, who commands the group, says since February, his unit has been responsible for security and stability operations in Babil, Karbala and Najaf provinces, with a detachment in eastern Anbar province.

After praising the soldiers for their military as well as their humanitarian efforts in the region, Collins said, "For the last 11 months, I've had the opportunity to serve with the absolute best soldiers that the United States has to offer," Collins said. "Every day they surprise me with their level of commitment."

Collins expressed his sentiments toward the soldiers who have given their lives. "Words can't express the grief that we have," he said. "Those soldiers were our friends. We fought alongside of them. We miss them, and they will always be heroes in our eyes."

(Read the entire interview here.)

All of us, including Wayne's newest newphew, Connor, have found something to chew on in anticipation of Wayne's arrival sometime during the holidays.

Recently, my father sent the lyrics to a song one of his choirs sang at a Thanksgiving performance. While re-reading the words today, I meditated on the the sacrifices of our faithful soldiers.

Find Us Faithful
Joh Mohr

We’re pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road,
And those who’ve gone before us line the way,
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary—
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace.

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
Let us run the race not only for the prize;
But, as those who’ve gone before us,
Let us leave behind us
The heritage of faithfulness,
Passed on through godly lives.

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone,
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind,
May the clues that they discover,
And the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road
We each must find.

O, may all who come behind us find us faithful;
May the fire of our devotion light their way.
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe;
And the lives we live
Inspire them to obey.

O, may all who come behind us find us faithful.
And just as importantly, we're grateful to all our faithful friends and extended family, who are making the last leg of this journey with us.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Day 324 - With Bright Shining Faces

It’s hard to tell who’s most excited about Wayne’s return. One thing’s for sure, we all love Lauren Ritchie, Wayne’s fiancée who has stood the test of a year’s separation during his deployment. The couple is engaged to be married in June at Seaside, Florida.

Lauren is the queen of encouragement and a joy to be around. Last year, she spent the entire holiday season away from her family to give Wayne as much time with his family as possible before he reported for active duty at the end of September. From October until January, Lauren traveled thousands of miles back and forth from Minden, LA, to Hattiesburg, MS, just to see Wayne whenever he could get off base from Camp Shelby.

Throughout the year, Lauren has warmed our hearts with her love and shined like a beacon for Wayne. Now, she glows with anticipation, awaiting the return of her soldier, her friend, and her love.

We love you, Honey. And we’re grateful to your parents, Lynn and Jim, not only for rearing such a fine young woman, but also for so warmly welcoming Wayne into your family.

You can visit Lauren's blog to post good wishes here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Day 323 - We're All In Our Places

Once we went public with the nutcracker parade, it caught on like crazy. Kids have brought nutcrackers. We’ve bought extra nutcrackers and shipped them to new collectors in other states. Folks have written to ask for information about specific nutcrackers. It’s all been great fun.

Here’s the latest to the 2005 collection…The 2005 Official Myron McCormick Nutcracker! Complete with stylish golf bag and silver beard, this wooden specimen is sure to be a crowd pleaser for years to come.

Another longstanding tradition in our family is sharing "stuff." My mom leads the pack in this category. For as long as I can remember, she always shared the little sample size toiletries from fancy hotels she visited. As I grew older, she shared make-up samples, which were always kept in a special bag in her powder room. Later, she shared big stuff, lke jewelry and furniture and special treasures that had belonged to her mom.

Not unlike a lot of kids, I grew to appreciate many of the things she gave me only after I had kept them a while. I can’t even remember when Mom gave me this painting. My guess is the artist probably saw a marketing opportunity in the early 70s after Tony Orlando released his smash hit, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.”

For whatever reason, I’ve hauled that little six-inch canvas through every move of the last three decades, just because I liked it. Ironically, it wasn’t until after Wayne deployed to Iraq I even noticed the tiny yellow ribbon painted around the tree trunk.

Yesterday, I replaced the real yellow ribbon tied around the tree in our front yard one last time before Wayne comes home. Back in July, wind whipped Uncle Sam’s legs to the ground and shredded the ribbon from its post. Today, our man out front stands in the melted sno!w, waiting patiently for our soldier to make his grand entrance as a veteran instead of a soldier home on leave.

And we’re ready. Yes, we are.