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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Minus 128 Days - We're Jazzed!

For 16 months, Uncle Sam has held up the yellow ribbon in our front yard, showing our support for Wayne until he returned from Iraq. Although he actually arrived at Camp Shelby on December 22, it wasn’t until this past weekend he came to “Momma’s house” in Hot Springs for the official yellow ribbon cutting ceremony.

Rain on Saturday turned into sunny and mild weather on Sunday. After sharing communion and Wayne’s favorite breakfast, we all headed to Isabella , one of eight golf courses at Hot Springs Village, the country’s largest gated community. The other three golfers in the foursome agreed our returning soldier would shoot par or below before the match ever started.

Sunday evening, Wayne and Lauren arrived to a standing ovation at the Hot Springs Jazz Society’s annual membership dinner and dance, as president Bob Seekatz thanked him for his service on behalf of the United States. Throughout the evening, blog readers and other friends congratulated Wayne on his return. He’s probably never been hugged and kissed by so many mature ladies since his arrival at the Dallas airport when he came home on leave in September!

The house is relatively quiet again, except for Angel, our canine boarder who has been a guest while Wayne’s grandmother has been out of town.

Debra, Wayne’s adopted aunt who enjoyed touches of Wayne’s humor throughout the weekend, is also still here making plans to move to Hot Springs in the near future. She and I are leaving today, headed to Florida to finalize plans for Wayne’s rehearsal dinner. My guess is we’ll drive through Louisiana close enough to drop off the computer he left at “Momma’s house.”

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Minus 131 Days - Joy Unspeakable and Full

After Wayne and Lauren arrived yesterday, we eached gulped down chicken salad wraps before heading to the theater to see Queen Latifa's new movie, "Last Holiday."

In this delightful remake of a 50-year-old flick, a mousey New Orleans department store employee who learns she has a terminal illness decides to turn her "Book of Possibilities" into "Book of Realities." Her last wish is to be cremated, saying, "I lived my whole life in a box. I don't want to be buried in one."

After the movie, Lauren spent a couple of hours discussing wedding dreams from her notebook of possibilites with my talented friend from Louisiana, Debra Lindley. A few feet away, Myron stroked the carpet with his new Scotty Cameron putter by Titleist, which he says he 'bought as a present for himself to celebrate Wayne's homecoming!' Around the corner in the office, Wayne finished a couple of online quizzes for a college management class before it was time to dress for the evening.

To celebrate Wayne's official homecoming to Hot Springs, we made reservations at Chef Paul's restaurant, rated 3 Diamond by AAA and winner of Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence.

Refined sophistication is tempered with personal touches to create a comfortable ambiance at this popular dining destination. Guests are seated amidst specially commissioned paintings by Carole Katchen, one featuring Chef Paul Uher (pronounced "you-er"), andChef Jeff, brothers who own Chef Paul's. Katchen used the restaurant as a background to feature special friends in other paintings. Paul's father's shaving mug collection from around the world accents the decor.

During dinner, Chef Paul visited with us for over an hour, describing his recent appearances at Harrods of London and a castle in Scotland. Laptop in hand, he also introduced us to Uher Cookin’ Wild, a weekly 30-minute wild game cooking show he hosts on the Men’s Channel and Healthy Living Channel.

Born in upstate New York, Uher described his hard-working parents as 'the best in the world.' His mom was a soprano with perfect pitch and a innate knack for details. Uher's dad followed his own dream by getting into the restaurant business at age 52, after having taught mentally challenged children for 20 years. Paul and Jeff obviously inherited their parents' legacy of hospitality, which we enjoyed last night.

"I can say without qualification," he recalls proudly, "when my mother and I did a party together, there was never, never, never a time things didn't go perfectly."

And things certainly went perfectly for us. Elegantly satisfied from the meal and thoroughly inspired by our host, we headed home. Each of commented how our evening at Chef Paul's seemed like a real-life continuation of the movie we had seen earlier in the afternoon.

The beautiful irony, as I told the others in the car, is that when I interviewed Paul last year, all his recent accomplishments were just dreams written in his own spiral notebook. Now, his possibilities are becoming realities.

Congratulations, and thank-you, Chef Paul!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Minus 131 Days - HE'S HOME!!!

Wayne and Lauren just arrived!!!

We're on our way out the door to the movie....

Friday, January 27, 2006

Minus 132 Days - An Ever Present Help

Sometimes, there just aren't any easy answers. Like yesterday, when my Inbox was peppered with emails about the unexpected death of a highschool classmate whose husband found her 'sleeping' but couldn't revive her.

While we're giddy, anticipating Wayne's arrival to Hot Springs tonight, spouses of other returning soldiers are having a tough time, at least as evidenced by recent chat room and blog posts:
"As for me, I’m just waiting on the call from the lawyer’s office to sign the divorce papers. I had a crying spell last night about 4am. I couldn't stop crying…It hurt really bad. I try to keep my mind on other things, but somehow he enters my mind."

"Just trying to get back to some kind of normal here... I would like to say it's easy transitioning back to regular life, but it's not. Hubby is still on active duty since he signed up for a year of work at our armory…It's got my nerves shot totally."

"I'm so tired of things being so dang complicated."

"The last 18 month deployment has altered any sort of sense of time for me. I still feel as though Dear Husband just got back in country some days. Isn't that weird? He will have been home for an entire year in March… I will also admit here, that I am still "tired". He has been home for a year and I am tired from the deployment. That is unlike me."
In your prayers this weekend, please remember our military families who are readjusting to civilian life, wounded service personnel who are recovering, kidnapped journalists like Jill Carroll whose families are praying for her release, as well as all the military folks who still serve around the world on behalf of the United States.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, Who loved us and gave us everlasting consolation and encouragement and well-founded hope through [His] grace [His empowering presence to equip you to be who you were created to be and to do what you were created to do] comfort and encourage your hearts and strengthen them [make them steadfast and keep them unswerving] in every good work and word.
(2 Thessalonians 2:16-18)
(Photo courtesy of All in a Mouse's Night.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Minus 133 Days - Coming Home

One week ago today, the Associated Press reported the last of the soldiers with the 155th Brigade Combat Team returned home.

The brigade deployed a year ago with 3,500 Mississippi Guard soldiers and others from across the country.

The final group, including unit commander Brig. Gen. Augustus Leon Collins, had been expected to arrive earlier in the week but their flight was delayed. The Sunday death of Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, Kuwait's emir, had temporarily grounded all flights in and out of Kuwait.

About 75 members of the brigade landed in Gulfport on Thursday. The others had arrived in waves since just before Christmas.

The return marked the end of the largest Mississippi deployment since World War II.

"It is a magnificent day," said Maj. Gen. Harold A. Cross, Mississippi's adjutant general.

Cross said the 155th did more than just fight while in theater.

The soldiers worked in construction, engineering and also set up a farming cooperative in a region that had never been farmed before.

"They stabilized a critical area," Cross said.

Collins, the first black general officer of the Mississippi National Guard, was promoted while deployed. He was offered leave to help family members on the Coast, but he waived it.

The 155th had 24 members killed in Iraq. Fourteen were Mississippi Guardsmen.

The group that arrived Thursday was a mixture of soldiers from across Mississippi and the country.

Maj. Lawrence House, a Mississippi National Guardsman living in College Station, Texas, said he has been deployed before, but this one was different.

"I am ready to be home," he said. "This is my third tour, but it is the first time I returned to a wife."

His wife, Cristy, was the only spouse at the Gulfport hangar Thursday night.

Most families were at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, where the soldiers were transported immediately following their arrival.
Here's the good news from here:
Wayne and Lauren are coming to Hot Springs tomorrow
for the first time since his return from Iraq!!


P.S. A little birdie just flew by and said Happy Birthday greetings are in order over at Blackfive.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Minus 136 Days - Real Fear

Wayne and Lauren called yesterday afternoon while driving home from a sales convention in Dallas, adding a new chapter to the continuing influence of Cindy Smith’s letter of thanks which quietly appeared in our mailbox last Wednesday.

“It was awesome!” Wayne began. “First, the emcee read Mrs. Smith’s letter from the stage. Three thousand people were already cheering when they asked me to stand and be recognized. If that weren’t enough, they invited me to say a few words to the audience. What started out to be 45 seconds turned into 5-1/2 minutes.”

“I talked about fear,” Sgt. West continued, “or at least the perception of fear. Most people we talked to at the convention had expressed a fear of cold calling, or talking to people they don’t know. From the stage, I said , ‘Let’s talk about real fear. Real fear is leaving with a convoy of military vehicles at 2:30 in the morning because you heard the #2 Al-Qaida guy is holed up in a village two miles away and your job is to go get him.”

“Real fear is being stuck up through a hatch, headed down the road to that village in pitch dark, seeing only what’s visible through the green glow of night vision goggles…then BOOM! A bomb goes off right in front of you, and the guys in the vehicle straight ahead are bouncing around like ping pong balls.”

“Real fear is hearing your commanding officer call you on the radio and ask if you can get around the disabled vehicle. Real fear is knowing it’s not a question of ‘Can I get around it?’, but
‘Do I want to get around it?’”

“In the split second when you know it’s just you and God, you still have to overcome real fear and move ahead. But being afraid to talk to somebody you don’t know about your business? That’s just a chemical surge in your brain. It’s not real fear. It’s an illusion.”
As Dr. Laura says, "Now, go take on the day!"

(Posted in Mudville Gazette and Basil's Blog.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Minus 137 Days - Good News Sunday

Around the country, military moms take their support roles seriously. Some moms, whose own soldiers have returned from active duty, quickly and eagerly adopted other units, knowing firsthand that support from home helps can save lives by improving troop morale.

Meet Karen, known to our online military family chat room as "Tig's Mom." She recently organized a classroom project for children to decorate Valentine cookie to send to the troops:
I took tons of cookies donated by local bakeries--along with tons of frosting, sprinkles, etc--to 5th Grade Classes at a local elementary school. These kids who have helped in the past are the most patriotic and amazing kids that I've ever had the honor of helping support our troops.

Well, it was a Huge Success!!!!! What fun! Exhausting. but FUN! Some of these cookies are gorgeous!!! I did have to make another trip to the store to buy some more sprinkles, gel writers, M&Mall 's and Red Hots to decorate the cookies. But we made it through! Another volunteer and my neighbor assisted me, and man, am I glad they helped.

Although it was quite a bit of work, it was fun. The kids had a blast and did a great job. Some of those kids were very creatively begging to eat the cookies, 'They are tempting, they smell wonderful and look yummy too!'

We had over 250 Cookies decorated by about 120 or so kids. The kids also created a lot of Valentine Cards for the troops to send in the packages. Their bulletin board is quickly being covered in letters back from the troops.

Of course I took some pictures! And so did the photographer for a magazine that's doing an article on my organization. This is going to be terrific, I'm sure.

When I had stopped at the Marine Recruiter's office earlier in the week, he gave me a huge stack of posters for the kids. They were excited about that! We're also going to set up a date and time for the Recruiter and his boss to go visit the kids class. Fifth Grade is a little early for recruiting, but these kids are so patriotic and thrilled with any Military Person, the air they breathe will be great, let alone seeing them in person. LOL

I showed the kids the flag I received from one of my adopted Marine units, they loved it! Little do they know that 1st Sgt is sending them a signed flag by all the Marines too! We read letters from the Army, Navy, Marines and Airforce to the kids as well, I'd been saving quite a stack for them.

A good time was had by all, and the troops will love the goodies made by the kids. "Love is Sweet, sometimes Sticky and Crumbly, but very SWEET!"
I remember two particular college interns who assisted my own fourth grade teacher. They made geography come alive by serving food samples from different countries...chocolate from Holland, caviar from Russia, etc. It's not beyond possibility the seeds they planted helped develop my love for travel and ultimately my career as a travel writer. Imagine what good seeds Karen is planting in her class!

If you're inspired to help, but don't know where to start, begin by reading about Soldier's Angels, a project started in 2003 by the mother of a soldier who, upon his return from active duty in Iraq, expressed concern for other soldiers who didn't receive letters or packages from home. Now, thousands of volunteers affiliated with the non-profit organization support thousands of adopted military personnel.

Congratulations to you and your wonderfully patriotic kids, Tig's Mom! And thanks to Soldier's Angels everywhere.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Minus 139 Days - Who Is Cindy Smith?

Many folks either called or emailed to comment on yesterday's post, an inspiring letter of thanks penned by Cindy Smith, which she had quietly dropped off in our mailbox Wednesday.

After having read the post, a mutual friend, Jennifer Hamner, replied she might know the mystery author:
"One Cindy Smith is a good friend of mine. The letter sounds like the Cindy I know. Her husband is Dr. Bruce Smith, and she teaches at National Park Community College.

Cindy and Bruce have three sons. One, who is doing a residency in Jackson, Miss., graduated with our son, Jonathan. Another is a lawyer in Little Rock, who graduated with our daughter, Mary. The third son still goes to medical school at Fayetteyeville.

Cindy is a wonderful person. I'll call her to ask if she wrote the letter, then have her call you if she did."
A few hours later, a meek voice on my cell phone simply said, "Hi, this is Cindy Smith."

"Hi, Cindy. This is Wayne's Mom," I answered. "We were so blessed by your letter, Wayne asked me to give you his cell number so that he can thank you personally."

"I just felt like we don't say 'thank you' enough," she continued, "and since I see the sign when pass by your house, I decided I could at least thank Wayne."

Cindy cried. I cried.

And yes, it really does make a difference when people take time to say thanks. I've got a few 'thank you's' to catch up on myself.
A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue,
but the parent of all other virtues.
~ Cicero

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Minus 140 Days - Cindy Smith Thanks Wayne

Someone named Cindy Smith signed the letter she dropped off a letter in our mailbox yesterday. As far as we can tell, Myron and I don't know the woman who penned these words of thanks to Wayne:

You do not know me, and I don't actually know you, but I have seen the "Welcome Home" sign in your yard, and I feel compelled to write this letter to you.

I want to thank you for your service to our country
and to the world.

Because of you and thousands of men and woman who have gone before you, the United States remains a free country. Because of you, I can write you this note; I can worship my God in the church I choose; I can send my children to the schools I choose so that they can get the education for the jobs THEY choose, not the jobs chosen for them. Because of you, I can do anything I am brave enough to try, because YOU were BRAVE enough to serve. Because of you, there has not been another terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Because of you, there is the hope of freedom and democracy in the middle east.

Thank you for protecting me and my family. Thank you for serving our great United States. I have prayed for you and all the servicemen and women, and I will continue to do so until all are home safely with their families. I am thankful that you are now home with your family, who also sacrificed during your absence.

I thank you on behalf of all free people in the United States and around the world. May God bless you and your family.

Cindy America,
Home of the Free, Because of the Brave
(Posted on Mudville Gazette and Basil's Blog.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Minus 141 Days - Update on Jill Carroll

A few days ago, we ran a post about Jill Carroll, a freelance journalist for the Christian Science Monitor, kidnapped in Iraq.

The Monitor reports today Carroll's captors have issued a statement demanding the United States free all Iraqi women prisoners within 72 hours – and are threatening to kill Carroll if this demand is not met.
Al Jazeera television aired a brief, silent video apparently showing Carroll speaking to the camera, but without broadcasting her voice. Several American networks also have aired the video.

Read the entire story here. And pray.

Also, we need to make a correction to our story about Les Bingham, Wayne's "Biker Babe" aunt, who cycles long distances for fun.

Les and her cronies didn't bike 300 miles. They rode 444 miles, the entire length of the Natchez Trace Parkway--from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi. The group speculates they may be the first to ride the complete stretch of the National Scenic Byway and All-American Road since the recent completion of the final 13.5 mile segment in the Jackson area.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Minus 142 Days - A Chocolate Legacy

Milton Hershey,
courtesy of Tim Manners, Editor of Cool News Reveries:

The brand name "Hershey" is all but a synonym for "chocolate," but reality is that Milton Hershey made his fortune on caramel, relays John Steele Gordon in a Wall Street Journal review of "Hershey," a new book by Michael D'Antonio. Actually, Milton Hershey's first job was as a printer, which he hated. But then he "went to work for a candy maker in Lancaster, Pa.," where "he found his life's work." His entrepreneurial spirit first led to "candy shops and small wholesale operations in Philadelphia and then New York, but both failed." It was only after he "began making caramels according to a new formula that produced a rich, creamy version of the confection" that he hit his mark.

Even then it wasn't easy. Milton Hershey's distribution strategy began as "a basket on the street" and then evolved into a "pushcart," Chipwich-style. He struggled until one day "a British importer happened to pass through town, tasted the caramels and placed a big order." From that day forward, Hershey's enterprise, The Lancaster Caramel Company, "was on its way." Before long, Milton Hershey had built a 450,000 square-foot factory, and he was rich, rich, rich! The chocolate chapter didn't begin until 1893, when Milton visited the Chicago World's Fair, where J.M. Lehmann, a German candymaker "had installed a small chocolate factory, where the fair-goers could watch the entire process as cocoa beans went in and chocolate bars came out." After the fair closed, Milton bought the factory, "lock, stock and barrel."

The idea of a chocolate bar for the masses was a new one at the time. Indeed, "until late in the 19th century, chocolate was mostly consumed as a drink by the upper classes, for it was expensive to process and solid chocolate tended to be gritty and unpleasantly strong." Milton also noticed that the "Cadbury family of England, who were Quakers, had established a factory out in the countryside and built an entire community around it, a chocolate utopia ... He founded the town that bears his name, paying for many of its public facilities, but it was his encouragement of workers' home ownership that ensure that Hershey, Pa., would thrive and avoid the pitfalls of renters-only company towns." He also "built a school for needy children." Ultimately, of course, Milton Hershey's legacy is this: "Today, Americans eat more than three billion pounds of (chocolate) a year, 11.7 pounds per person."
Of course, our pledge to Eat Less/Move More does not include Hershey morsels. I can't even imagine the temptation of living in a real chocolate city like Hershey, Pennsylvania!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Minus 143 Days - Movin' On Monday

Wayne’s Aunt Les is a serious biker. Every Saturday, she gets up at the crack of dawn to pedal a real bicycle. Like 30 miles or so. Fast. And she's done it for the last 18 YEARS!

When I posted our New Year’s mantra, Eat Less / Move More,
Les commented:
Girl, Get a bicycle, ride every day hard for 45 minutes, and I promise, you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight, enjoy the beauty of God's creation and have fun,
all at the same time.
Lifestyle is the key word!!!
I once had a friend who imbibed too much too often. On a particular occasion, her husband cautioned, “Look, alcohol is OK as long as you just have one or two drinks,” to which my friend replied, “What’s the point of drinking then?”

I'm convinced, Les is a bike-aholic. Why cycle just one or two miles at casual speed when you can go to the next TOWN faster than than a car in traffic?

Just before Christmas, Les and a few other addicts in her support group rode 300 MILES of the Natchez Trace Parkway from Nashville, Tenn. to Jackson, Miss., just for FUN!

Her latest comment on the blog: “Maybe I could book tours up and down the Natchez Trace for people who want to lose weight by cycling?????????????????" LGB

Any takers?

P.S. I might try it, just to wear cool leggings like Les has on in pic #2. Click the picture for a better view!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Minus 144 Days - Good News Sunday

1. The Dow hit 11,000 Monday.

2. I probably ate 11,000 fewer calories last week than I did Christmas week.

3. Wayne called a few minutes ago to let me hear the sound of the surf in Florida.
That's especially good news, knowing he's standing on beach sand instead of desert sand.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Psalm 107:1

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Minus 145 Days - Saturday Heroes 1

As a child, Wayne never slept late on Saturday mornings. Soon after sunrise, the pitter-patter of happy feet running down the hall signaled our little caped crusader was headed to the tube for his weekend fix of heroic video action.

"Nana nana nana,
nana nana nana
nana nana...BAT-MAN!!"
became the household anthem. Soon, we made our own jokes, like,
"Holy Alarm Clock, Honey! It must be time to get up!"

Life isn't so simple anymore, but our need for heroes is stronger than ever.

Now that our Wayne is home from Iraq, someone suggested we could devote one day a week to sharing stories of courageous men and women still deployed. Great idea. So, here's our first installment of Saturday Heroes.

We'll kickstart the series with a story from Black Five, an award winning Veteran blogger who inspires us all with his category of posts called, "People You Should Know."

Read Saving Private Ali, the story of one combat medic's heroic efforts to save an Iraqi soldier...mostly in the second half!

If you or someone you know has a story to share, email it to us using the address found in the sidebar. We'll post Saturday Heroes 2 next week.

P.S. Wayne called bright and early this morning with this jab, "I'm on my way to the beach today. What are you doing?"

(Wayne and Lauren are traveling with her parents to make final arrangements for the wedding this summer.)

Posted on Mudville Gazette.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Minus 146 Days - The Best Hook-Ups

(First, a follow-up to yesterday's post about cell phone records for sale: Here's the
CBS News report aired last night.)

Before Wayne deployed to Iraq, we became pseudo geeks. We learned about GPS, web cams, Voice Over Internet Protocol, etc.

To save time, I looked to real gurus for advice and expertise. My bookmarks now include CNET, Boing Boing and Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools.

One list I missed first time around was
10 Greatest Gadget Ideas of the Year, published December 31 by the New York Times, and billed as 10 of 2005's best small,
sweet improvements in our electronic lives.

The list includes:
1. Voice Mail VCR
2. Folding Memory Card
3. Front Side TV Connector
4. Bigger Than TV Movie Camera
5. Downloadable TV Show Archives
6. Outer Button Flip Phone
7. Free Domain Name
8. Modular DVD Screen
9. Family Portrait Burst Mode
10. Hybrid High-Definition VCR Tape
Click here for the full story with links.
(Short free registration required, but worth it.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

WNW, Minus 147 Days, Pt. 2 - Cell Phone Tell Phone

Did you know your cell phone records could be for sale online?
Click here and here to explore.

Ameriblog has the full story.

CBS News is scheduled to report on the cell records privacy scandal tonight (1/12/06) on their evening news broadcast.

P.S. For more references, Google "buy cell phone records online." If anybody pops the dough to buy your own records, just to see if it works, be sure to let us know the results!

Minus 147 Days - Showers of Blessing

When Wayne was still in Iraq, one of the things he said he missed most was long hot showers.

With Wayne and Lauren's beach wedding now on the summer horizon, we’re all thinking about water these days. As in: Drink more water.
Eat less. Move more

Still, the first place I get to move more around here is in the shower,
just to get the water where I need it. Whoever built this house obviously didn’t have the same affection for the therapeutic experience Jerry Tucker describes as some vague memory from childhood, which perhaps returns when visiting someone who lives in an old home.
You turn on the shower and the water washes over your whole self as if you are standing under a warm-spring waterfall. It is generous and therapeutic. The spray is heavy and hard, enough even to work muscle cramps out of your back, enough to wash the conditioner out of your hair, enough to leave you feeling wholly renewed — enough to get you completely clean.
According to Jerry, many people now hack their showers — or customize them, if you prefer. “You can take your shower head down, pull the washer out with a screwdriver, and remove the offending intrusion that is restricting water flow. It can be a tiny second washer or it can be a hard plastic piece. Just pop it out and replace the washer. Sometimes it is necessary to trim it out using a pen knife.”

“Using such strategies,” he contends, “you can increase your water flow from 2 gallons per minute to 3 and even 4 gallons per minute. You can easily clock this using a stopwatch and a milk carton.”

One of my favorite fantasies is a strong water pressure from a
light up shower head!

What a great wedding present…!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Minus 149 Days - Journalist Jill Carroll Kidnapped in Iraq

The Boston Herald reports this morning Jill Carroll, a 28-year-old freelancer for The Christian Science Monitor, was kidnapped Saturday in Baghdad, when gunmen ambushed her car and killed her translator. She had been on her way to meet a Sunni Arab official in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

After initial reports of the kidnapping on Saturday, The Associated Press and other news organizations honored a request from the newspaper in Boston and a journalists' group in Baghdad for a news blackout. The request was made to give authorities an opportunity to try to resolve the incident during the early hours after the abduction.

Jill Carroll's ties to a paper with "Christian" in the title was also a likely concern when dealing with Islamic fundamentalists, noted one editor who had agreed not to publish a story on the incident. "That could put her life more in danger," the editor said.

Carroll's parents live in Ann Arbor, Mich. She moved to Jordan six months before the Iraq war started "to learn as much about the region as possible before the fighting began," she wrote in the February/March edition of American Journalism Review.

"All I ever wanted to be was a foreign correspondent," she wrote last year in the magazine. "It seemed the right time to try to make it happen."

Please join us in prayer for Jill's safety and a quick release from her captors.
He is the God who avenges me,
who puts the nations under me,
who sets me free from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from violent men you rescued me.
Therefore I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name.
(2 Samuel 22:48-50)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Minus 150 Days - Eat Less. Move More.

My insurance agent squirmed when he delivered a copy of my new longterm care policy. Slightly stuttering, he said, "I'm sorry I wasn't able to get the preferred rate I quoted you."

"Anything wrong?" I asked, secretly dreading what I knew was coming.

He slid the paper toward me, using that silent technique salesmen hope will make it better if they don't have to say it outloud.

One word: WEIGHT.

After I shared the story with my sister in Atlanta, she suggested since we've all decided to eat less and move more these days, we could form a Family FUNactics Club, with our first objective to build "future firm figures!"

"The good news is," she encouraged, "this is something you can really do something about!" (That's what I love about my sister!)

If you're interested in charting progress with us, here's the form we used. I guess we'll update it every week or so during our 150-day start to a new lifestyle, despite the fact one of my friends says when you exercise, fat itches!

Whadya say, Santa?

P.S. That's our grandson, Connor on his knee!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Minus 151 Days - Good News Sunday

It’s hard to believe in Wayne's New World, we’re only 151 days away from Wayne and Lauren’s rehearsal dinner and wedding. Their precious “Save the Date” card, designed by Lauren and her mother, arrived yesterday. So far, it's looks as if we'll be able to work the trip into our schedule. (smile!)

In other news, Mrs. Greyhawk shares Fiesta Gold, the story of one military wife’s opportunity to throw the football through a target 15 yards away to earn a hefty contribution for the USO and an opportunity to speak to her husband in Iraq via satellite. Read it the surprise ending here!

Michael Yon has issued a Call for Veteran Volunteers to help create an ongoing forum to publish news from the front lines. Get more information here.

Some Soldier's Mom reports over 1000 soldiers from the 3rd Brigade will return to Fort Benning, GA, tomorrow! She's also got a great homecoming story. Jump over and leave a word of encouragement here.

It's a beautiful day here in central Arkansas. Around here, naps on Sunday afternoons aren't optional; they're required.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Minus 152 Days - The Best Blonde Joke Ever

Now that Wayne's home,
I figure
we can lighten up
a little bit.

Over at Biggie Fries, Josh shares the best blonde joke ever!

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

155th Brigade Combat Team: 2005 in Review

A few days ago, the 155th Brigade Combat Team transferred authority of their area of operations in Iraq to the 2nd BCT, 4th Infantry Division from Ft. Hood, TX during a ceremony held at their headquarters in Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq. The 4th ID is the same unit responsible for the capture of Saddam Hussein on December 13, 2003.

Formal transfer of authority signifies the 155th has completed their role in Operation Iraqi Freedom III. For these nearly 4000 soldiers, including Wayne, the fighting is over.

During their deployment, the 155th BCT was responsible for operations in the provinces of An Najaf, Karbala, North Babil and Eastern Al Anbar.

Our soldiers helped to stabilize security in the north Babil area, better known as the "Throat of Baghdad,” part of the former "Triangle of Death". It was here they performed some of the most difficult combat operations. As a result of the success of the 155th BCT, this area is showing great signs of progress:
* Over 1500 terrorists captured
• More than 28,000 weapons seized, and
• Over 18,000 pounds of munitions, including 8,000 pounds of explosives, destroyed.
The 155th was a major supporter during Iraq’s first three free and democratic elections.
• In January 2005 Iraq voted on their first provincial government.
• In October, the constitutional referendum passed with astounding numbers of Iraqi’s turning out to vote.
• The December parliamentary election showed remarkable numbers at the polling stations. In the three provinces where the 155th BCT responsible for security, voter turnout topped 83 percent.
The 155th BCT worked with the new Iraqi government, mentoring them and teaching them the ways of freedom and democracy.
* Provincial Reconstruction Development Committees were developed in Najaf and Karbala. These committees comprise Coalition Force Soldiers and members of the Department of State, who worked with the local governments to prioritize reconstruction efforts to better meet the needs of the people of the area.
• Due to the 155th BCT’s active involvement in local communities, almost $100 million was committed to projects to improve electricity, sanitation, healthcare and education for the Iraqi citizens.
Under supervision of the 155th BCT, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) made tremendous strides in competence and professionalism. Ultimately, Coalition Forces ultimately played a support role in the security of Najaf and Karbala, assisting the ISF only when needed. The citizens of these provinces can now be confident that their security forces will continue to protect them as they have done for the past year.

For the next 90 days, soldiers will reunite with their families and their communities. The Brigade will resume their “Weekend Warrior” drills in May.

(Information courtesy of SFC Kevin R. Reeves.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Letter of Thanks from Wayne

Dear Friends,

Well, I must say I have never been so excited to see a new year in my life! Still, 2005 will never be forgotten.

It was the year boys from all over the country became men who pulled together as one unit to conquer a common enemy. Although it was real and even fun at times, it was never real fun. There was always another place we would rather have been.

A wise woman once said -- actually she said it three times, "There is no place like home!!" So to every one of you who supported us from here at home with letters, shoes, food, shoes, magazines, shoes, prayers, shoes, school supplies, etc., and more shoes, I give you my deepest appreciation.

Your prayers were felt all year long. Ya'll helped pick us up and push us forward when it got hard.

Thank you for encouraging my mother all year, too. This blog was like therapy for her. So thank you for visiting the site and loving on her with comments all year. We have made a lot of good friends in 2005.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year and pray that 2006 will be joyful and exciting and full of life! We love you guys.

Take care,

Sgt. West, Donald W

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Don't Ask. Don't Tell.

The combination of warmer mid-day temperatures and the effort to load all his gear into the back of Lauren’s SUV made it warm enough for Wayne to take off his coat just before we left Camp Shelby.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, sticking his chest out, and pointing to a spot just above his pocket, “Take a look at my new Combat Action Badge.”

“Do I want to know what that’s for?” I asked sheepishly.

“Probably not,” he winked.

On 2 May 2005, the Army’s Chief of Staff approved the creation of the new award to recognize soldiers who demonstrate and live the Warrior Ethos.
Warrior ethos compels soldiers to fight through all conditions to victory no matter how much effort is required. It is the soldier’s selfless commitment to the nation, mission, unit, and fellow soldiers. It is the professional attitude that inspires every American soldier. Warrior ethos is grounded in refusal to accept failure. It is developed and sustained through discipline, commitment to the Army values, and pride in the Army’s heritage.
This subdued cloth version on an olive green base cloth shows the bayonet, grenade, oak wreath and border of the bar embroidered in black. The metal version is a two-inch silver badge consisting of an oak wreath supporting a rectangle bearing a bayonet surmounting a grenade, all silver. Stars are added at the top to indicate subsequent awards.

In keeping with the spirit of the Warrior Ethos, the Combat Action Badge provides special recognition to Soldiers who personally engage the enemy, or are engaged by the enemy during combat operations. The bayonet and grenade are associated with active combat. The oak wreath symbolizes strength and loyalty.

Congratulations, SGT West!

If there were a Weather Action Badge, I think they should give one to Mike Hollingshead, who has been chasing storm clouds for years. See some amazing storm cloud photos here.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Count Your Blessings, Name Them One by One

One of my Baptist-preacher-grandfather's favorite hymns was
"Count Your Blessings."

This morning, while searching 2005 travel photos to use with a story,
I ran across this picture taken last April at the studio of artist
J. D. Challenger in Taos, New Mexico.

A huggy, Santa sort of guy, Challenger’s spirit is reflected in his eyes—-deep blue pools of compassion.

When he saw me standing teary-eyed across the room, Challenger walked over, put his hand on my shoulder and promised to add Wayne’s name to the hundreds of other soldiers already posted on his Blessing Wall.

I’ll email him today to let him know how very blessed we really are to have Wayne safely home again.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Count your blessings,
name them one by one,
Count your blessings,
see what God hath done!
Count your blessings,
name them one by one,
And it will surprise you
what the Lord hath done.