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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Minus Nine Days - 155th to be Honored Thursday

According to The Clarion Ledger, the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum, which chronicles conflicts from the early 1800s to the present wars in the Middle East, will soon be home to a monument honoring thousands of soldiers who braved the battlefields of Iraq.

A monument dedicated to the Mississippi National Guard's 155th Brigade Combat Team will be unveiled Thursday at the museum at Camp Shelby just south of Hattiesburg.

Camp Shelby opened in 1917, and tens of thousands of soldiers, including the 155th, which spent most of 2005 in Iraq have trained on its 136,000 acres.

The brigade was made up of 3,500 Mississippians and marked the largest deployment of Magnolia State soldiers since World War II -an era in which 100,000 soldiers trained at Camp Shelby.

The brigade -with members from Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Texas, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina, Vermont, Utah, and Arkansas - was attached to the II Marine Expeditionary Force.

The monument will join the museum's roughly 17,000 artifacts that include an exhibit honoring Mississippi's 26 Medal of Honor recipients and the 44 Medal of Honor recipients who served or trained at Camp Shelby. The monument will be placed so it faces markers dedicated to World War II, said museum director Chad Daniels.

"One side will be World War II and on the other side will be the global war on terrorism," Daniels said. "The placement is important. The 155th has a lineage with the 31st Infantry Division from World War II, also known as the Dixie Division, which is directly across the street from where the 155th monument is going to be."

The 155th deployed from Camp Shelby in January 2005. Fourteen Mississippians died in Iraq. Purple Heart medals were given to 123 soldiers for combat injuries or deaths. Other medals that went to members of the brigade include 328 Bronze Stars, 2,000 Combat Badges and one Silver Star, said Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, Mississippi's adjutant general.

The monument "commemorates the service of the Mississippi National Guard personnel and the other service personnel that served with them in Iraq," Daniels said. "It's something that when these fellas come back they can show their children and their
relatives, 'Here is something I was a part of."'

The museum opened four years ago on a base with a fascinating history. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress, trained at Camp Shelby with the Japanese-American 442nd Regiment. It became one of the most decorated units in the war.

Camp Shelby was also a prisoner of war camp that housed thousands of Germans during World War II.

Today, the camp is training soldiers for duty in Iraq and other crisis areas. Nearly 20,000 soldiers have trained there since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Retired Gen. Emmett H. "Mickey" Walker, a decorated World War II veteran and former head of the National Guard Bureau under President Reagan for whom the museum is dedicated, has said the facility at Camp Shelby rivals any military museum in the world.

The monument dedication will coincide with the annual Mississippi National Guard Retiree Day, which gives former soldiers a chance to reunite and see the changes being made at the base, said Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Tim Powell.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day 2006

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers.

For this family and many others like us, Memorial Day will never again be just another day to play golf or to sleep late.

This time last year, we were learning lessons about sacrifice as did other military families before us. Only ours was more immediate.

We weren't waiting to receive handwritten letters. (Thank goodness! I think I got TWO all year!) We strained to hear the ding of Yahoo Instant Messenger. We huddled over our computers hoping for an email, or at least a new post from Kevin Kelly. We scanned family message boards, grateful to share good news.

Sometimes, silence was deadly.

Whenever communications were cut off, we held our breath--knowing in all probability, one of our soldiers would not be coming home alive. Like some horrible lottery, we waited with other mothers, wives and girlfriends, wondering who would get the one phone call or visit they dreaded most. This morning, I'm particularly sensitive to the pain of those families in our brigade who lost a loved one.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us Freedom of the Press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us Freedom of Speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the Freedom to demonstrate.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial;

And it is the Soldier--who salutes the flag,
Who serves the flag, and
Whose coffin is draped by the flag--
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

By Charles M. Province
To all our men and women serving or who have served in the Armed Forces, and to those families who have endured hardship for the cause of Freedom, thank you.

"Now the Lord is that Spirit:
and where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is liberty."
1 Corinthians 3:17
God bless you all.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Eleven Days and a Wake-up

Although it's 11 days until Wayne's wedding, it's only five days until we leave for Florida. We've got out-of-town guests in our home for the Memorial Day weekend, I'm in the middle of magazine production and I've got another story to write for Hot Springs Village Voice before I go. It also might help if I pack...check, after I go shopping.

Unlike our middle son, Bret, I'm not sure I could make it as a newspaper journalist. I'm too finicky about about my "writing environment." Conversation is off-limits. Television playing in the background is a definitely taboo. That's particularly unfortunate, because my home office has no doors, and I'm right around the corner from the living room, my husband's easy chair and the constant chatter of the box.

Most music doesn't work, either. Music with words or a beat is a big no-no. My mind automatically jumps to the rhythm or the lyrics.

I've found only one thing that assists my creativity: Solo Piano Radio - Music to Quiet Your World.

Television is on in the next room, where Myron is also giving a carpet-green putting lesson to his guest. The wife is also up, and she's talking on the phone to her daughter back home.

Now that I've already served everybody breakfast, it's back to the June cover story, for at least another hour...and a little more volume on Solo Piano Radio in the headset.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Minus 16 Days - Combat Diaries Tonight on A&E

My friend, Josh, over at Biggie Fries, posted a reminder to watch a documentary tonight about his Marine friend's combat unit.

Tune in to A&E tonight at 8 p.m. CST to view Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company.

Click here to watch a preview.

If you can't watch tonight, additional airings are:

Thursday, May 25 9pm/8C
Friday, May 26 1am/12C
Saturday, May 27 8pm/7C
Sunday, May 28 12am/11C & 1pm/12C
Monday, May 29 8am/7C & 2pm/1C

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Minus 18 Days - How Old Are You?

Take the Eons 50+ Challenge

Lately, I catch myself taking deep breaths and saying, 'You can do this. Take the long view. Everything's gonna be alright.'

I've worked hard to quit being such a control freak. A few years ago, I nearly slapped the person who told me my determination to be a good mother was really more about misplaced pride than it was about my son's well-being. Now, I want to slap anybody who says when a daughter marries, you get a son; but when a son marries, you're SOL.

One good thing about living in a retirement destination like Hot Springs is nearly everybody is in transition of one sort or another. But nobody sits around and whines about being old. We embrace the opportunity to give back, make a difference and leave a legacy.

Eighteen days away from Wayne's wedding day, I realize the only way I'll keep sane is to enjoy the moment, and the next moment, and the next moment, and the next moment...

Yesterday, I got a shot in the psychological arm when I opened the mail to find an invitation to think ahead from Eons, a company celebrating life that begins at 50.

"We're inspring a generation of boomers and seniors to do more, see more, learn more and be more on their way to the reachable goal of living to be 100," the company literature says.

To encourage us to take the long view, Eons will award one lucky person $15,000 to help achieve the #1 thing you want to accomplish in your life after 50. People who register will receive one chance to win for each goal entered. The more goals, the more chances to win.

Want your chance at the $15,000? Visit Eons 50+ Challenge and share the #1 thing you want to accomplish in your life.

Use prize code 30952. (Must be 50+ to win.)

I feel better already, just from having started my list.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Minus 26 Days - Lessons I've Learned from My Son

Blip… Blip… Blip…_____________________________.

Everything was fine until the fetal heart monitor flat-lined, 12 hours into hard labor.

“Your baby has turned breach,” the doctor said matter-of-factly, summoning the delivery team. “We need to do a C-section…now.”

Less than an hour later, you were born healthy and whole, thank goodness. The night of July 1, 1983, you taught me it’s not how you start, but how you finish, that really counts.

By the time you were four, we were well into homeschooling—not just for you, but six other children with whom you shared your room and your toys five days a week for seven years. Instead of sleeping late on Saturday morning, you popped out of bed, ready to scour neighborhood garage sales for new stuff we could ‘show the kids on Monday.’ You taught me the best way to learn is by teaching someone else.

At seven, you were ready to see the world.

“When will you take me on an airplane?” you asked one early summer night, wide-eyed as I tucked you into bed. Where? “Disneyworld, of course,” you continued. “We can look for a good deal in the travel section of the Sunday Times.”

By Sunday, you had a goal. Four days, three nights in Orlando - including airfare, rental car, hotel and continental breakfast – for $1100. I agreed to spring for park tickets if you could come up with $1100 in 12 weeks.

By Wednesday, you had a plan. “Remember when the youth group at church was going to paint house numbers on the curbs, but they never did? I could do that!”

By Friday, you were on a mission. “Your Number’s Up – Curb Painting by Wayne West” was a new business on the block. With a tool box containing disposable gloves, a set of stencils and two cans of spray paint, plus a fanny pack carrying business cards, a pen, a receipt book and change – you were ready to conquer the neighborhood.

And conquer it you did! You painted over 200 curbs, learned how to bank, how to tithe, how to save and how to write thank-you notes. The week after Labor Day, we boarded a Delta jet with a flight crew so impressed by your efforts, they introduced you as their honored guest to the rest of the passengers. That summer, you taught me how to work a dream from the end to the beginning.

But what happens when an otherwise stable kid moves to a different city and has to start traditional school for the first time as a six grader – all while his parents are getting a divorce? You not only made new friends, but you also made the honor roll and were voted “Most Christ-like Student” by your peers. That year, you taught me it’s not the hand you’re dealt, but how you play your cards that really matters.

Then what happens when a promising athlete’s high school closes unexpectedly four weeks before his junior year, and he has to choose between a familiar school in his home town or a strange boarding school eight hours away? You took the high road again, accepting a scholarship to Baylor School in Chattanooga. On your own now, you continued to choose the right path, earning recognition for leadership and achievement in academics and sports. During those two years, you taught me what you do is based more on who you are, not so much on what you have.

Finally, what happens when a college freshman enlists in the National Guard to help pay for tuition the same day the Twin Towers get bombed? You didn’t back out. Instead, you prayed in front of an entire congregation, “Father, thank you for the authority you have set in the earth. Bless our President and members of the houses of Congress with wisdom to make good decisions for our country. Bless the parents of those of us who have been called to serve with the courage to let us go.” That day, and during 16 months of active duty in Iraq, you taught me difficult decisions are based on principle, not convenience.

Back on American soil now, you’re ready to spread your wings again, this time on the warm currents of love.

As you begin a new life with Lauren, your precious bride, I honor you for the man you have become. I remind you of lessons already learned—how to work diligently, to save regularly, to give sacrificially and to love lavishly. I gratefully acknowledge the cloud of witnesses who have helped us along the way. I treasure the blessing you have always been, and now bless your going out with the empowering presence of the One from whom all blessings flow.

Love, Momma

P.S. Brush your teeth. Have nice manners. Use good judgment.
And call me.