In the war zone: Parents reflect on their child’s role as wartime soldier
Janet Lough has been glued to the television since war broke out in Iraq. She hopes to catch a glimpse of her son, Robert, age 18, to know that he’s OK. A soldier in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, he could be anywhere in Iraq.
With the debate over going to war relegated to the history books, and Americans trying to adjust to a wartime reality with words such as “U.S. casualties” and “POWs,” North Lake Tahoe parents are trying to cope with having their children in a war zone.
They ride an emotional roller coaster, alternating between pride They support the war while praying for their child’s safe return.
Mike and Elizabeth Thornton’s son Michael,20, is also in the Army. A 2000 North Tahoe High School graduate, Michael Thornton drives an armored personnel vehicle for the 4th Armored Infantry Division. His unit is equipped with a 120-mm mortar capable of launching grenades six miles away. He was to be deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, to Kuwait earlier this month.
“He will be up front and in it, but I don’t know how effective he will be since they will be in an urban environment,” said Mike Thornton.
“We’re extremely proud, but extremely nervous and worried,” said his wife. “It’s been up and down. At the drop of a hat, I can cry.”
Robert Lough, also a North Tahoe High grad, is a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. He was based in Kuwait as of a month ago, the last time Janet Lough talked to him. Since then, she is unsure of his whereabouts.
“It’s hard. If I just don’t hear anything, then I know he is safe,” she said. “Otherwise, someone from the Army would be knocking on my door.”
Tammie Ewers’ son Josh Dodderer, a 22-year old North Tahoe High grad, is a first-class airman who fuels large refueling planes at Prince Sultan Air Force Base in Saudi Arabia and guards the entrance to the base.
“I’m a little concerned, but he’s not directly in harm’s way. All I worry about is somebody with a bomb at the gate or a grenade,” Ewers said. “I don’t worry about enemy fire, and the Air Force base is out of range of Iraqi missiles.”
Parents also take comfort in knowing that their children are highly trained. Randy and Cathy Chester witnessed the training their son Matthew, a 1996 North Tahoe grad, went through to become a Navy helicopter pilot when they visited him in Pensacola, Fla., last year.
“Once we experienced that, we saw their confidence is tremendous,” said Randy Chester.”They don’t feel like we feel; they know their equipment is good.”
Matthew Chester flies is an SH60 helicopter equipped for anti-sub warfare with search-and-rescue capabilities. Chester, who is marrying a naval officer in June, is on his way from San Diego to an undisclosed location aboard the USS John C. Stennis. His parents say the Navy has prepared them for what lies ahead, but they are still concerned for his safety.
“We still go to bed every night thinking about him,” Randy Chester said.
Other parents rely on their intuition.
“I have a lot of faith that he’s going to be OK and he’ll come back,” Elizabeth Thornton said.