Local parents wait and worry
Aspen Times Staff Writer
“Hey, Mom and Troy,
How’s things in your neck of the woods? Things are good in mine – just doing training and working. Today we ran some drills, and we had to fight simulated fires. It was hot in all the firefighting gear, but it was necessary for us to be ready if something should happen.”
– excerpt from an e-mail from U.S. Navy enlistee Eric V. Grant, currently stationed in the Persian Gulf.
In this neck of the woods, thousands of miles from the front lines of the Iraq conflict, Roaring Fork Valley residents wait and worry.
With their sons and daughters involved in the U.S. effort to unseat Saddam Hussein, there’s little else they can do – except, like U.S. Navy enlistee Eric V. Grant, “be ready.”
Grant’s mother, Basalt resident Sandra Hassell, is coping with her son’s current tour of duty. Hassell sounds almost cheerful when discussing her son’s military background, her voice tinged with pride.
“I didn’t cry until I got off the phone [with him] yesterday,” Hassell said. “I feel like he’s safe, but it’s hard when you have somebody that far away and you can’t hug them.”
There wasn’t time for a final hug before Eric’s departure. He reported for duty at his Norfolk, Va., naval base one February morning only to find that he had four hours to pack his gear and board a plane, Hassell said.
“We knew he was going, but we didn’t know he was going so fast,” Hassell said.
Eric isn’t able to name his current location – his loved ones know only that he’s somewhere “off the tip of Kuwait,” stationed on a U.S. Marine transport ship. Eric and his crew make frequent trips between sea and shore, ferrying combat-ready soldiers to the front lines.
Eric is able to update his family on military matters almost daily, thanks to e-mail. He also manages to phone home “once in a great while,” Hassell said.
These updates alternately comfort and distress their recipients.
“I know he was talking to his wife about a week ago when they had a drill, and he had to hurry and put his gas mask on,” Hassell said.
This is the second time Eric has had to leave his wife and 6-year-old daughter behind during his three-year navy career. Eric was enlisted as a “brown shirt” on the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman two years ago, part of a crew that cared for an entire fleet of jets during a six-month tour abroad.
Eric is a young veteran, but the former valley resident isn’t alone. The Iraqi conflict is Adam Mooney’s second war, too – his second in the last 10 months, in fact.
Mooney, 25, a communications specialist with the U.S. Army’s 258th Military Police Battalion, returned from a six-month stint in Afghanistan last June. And just when his mother, Maureen Mooney of Woody Creek, began to relax, he was tapped for a second tour of duty – this time, on the front lines of the war in Iraq.
“I didn’t get to see him before he left,” Mooney laments. “I’m sure that’s what upsets the most people – they don’t get to say goodbye to their kids before they leave.”
Adam has been gone less than a week – he left his base in southern Louisiana just last Wednesday. Mooney hasn’t been able to relax since his departure.
“I haven’t gotten any rest. I’ve been glued to the TV,” she said.
Mooney is especially intrigued by reports of surrendering Iraqi troops. Adam’s battalion will eventually be charged with caring for foreign prisoners of war, Mooney said.
Reports like these are quickly added to Mooney’s scrapbook, created for Adam when he enlisted in the Army three years ago. She’s saved all of his letters and e-mails, and clipped articles highlighting most of his military accomplishments.
“This thing must weigh 50 pounds by now,” Mooney laughs.
She’s also collecting for care packages. Unable to see her son off at the airport, Mooney instead sent him a box of goodies to keep him company.
“I felt so much better since I did something the day he left,” she said.
And, for now, Mooney must take comfort in Adam’s dispatches from the front. He, like Eric, seems unruffled by the events around him.
“He said, `Mom, I’ll be okay. There are a lot of young guys here with me who are just out of boot camp – I’m setting the example for them,'” Mooney recalls. “He’s being courageous and brave.”
Mooney – like other valley parents, siblings and spouses with loved ones abroad – hopes she can be the same.
“I’ve been doing a lot of praying, praying for just about everybody who’s involved in this,” she said. “But I have a lot of faith and confidence that he’s going to get through this.”
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The Sylvan Fire burning 12 miles south of Eagle nearly doubled in size overnight into Tuesday morning. The fire has grown to 2,630 acres — a little more than 4 square miles — since it ignited Sunday afternoon.