Archive for Thursday, June 17, 2004

Kreutzers navigate winds of war

June 17, 2004

As his wife, Pam, made final preparations Saturday for a party celebrating the safe return of their daughter from the war, Mark Kreutzer Sr. reflected on two years of changes that had his family celebrating Father's Day with a mixture of joy, apprehension and expectation.

"This all started when they signed up to get a little extra money for college," Mark said of his son and daughter's enlistment in the Army Reserve.

In 2002, brother and sister Mark Kreutzer Jr. and Alisa Jones joined the Army Reserve during her senior and his junior year at De Soto High School.

Days after graduating high school that May, Jones left for basic training. That was followed with training in her specialty as a truck mechanic. Then, near the start of the Iraq war, her company, the 129th Transportation Unit based in New Century Air Center, was deployed to Kuwait.

Meanwhile, her brother went through basic training in the summer of 2002, finished high school in May 2003, got his advanced training last summer, started at Highland Community College last fall before being called to active service in November. He was deployed to Iraq in January.

In the midst of all this activity, Mark Jr. married his high school sweetheart, Amanda Ireland, in November.

It's been a whirlwind two years that the family was still riding out. Mark Jr. and Amanda are expecting their first child, a boy, in mid-July, but family members are betting it will arrive before then.

"I'm going a little crazy about the grandchild," Pam said, pointing to a stuffed rocking toy in the living room. "I'm so excited."

Adding to the joy was the return in late May of the couple's oldest daughter after a 13-month deployment in Kuwait.

Two hours before the start of her homecoming party, Jones and her parents reflected on the past two years. Rising from a chair awkwardly, Jones joked that she looked like she was still in Kuwait.

"I was so tired," she said. "We worked so hard. We worked 12-hour days, seven days a week."

Her active duty in the Persian Gulf wasn't dangerous, Jones said. Her company came home from the 13-month deployment without any deaths or injuries. (One soldier was killed in an accident while back in the states on leave, she said.)

But servicing the heavy trucks carrying tanks and assorted equipment into Iraq and back required an exhausting work schedule.

The work to repair brakes and hydraulic systems, replace worn tires, and otherwise maintain the trucks was done in temperatures that often exceeded 120 or 130 degrees, she said. There was little relief. The company was assigned to the appropriately named "Truckville" in Camp Arifjan, a $200 million facility built by the Kuwaiti government.

"Being built" was closer to the truth, Jones said. Her company arrived before many of its amenities were finished. While she was there, a swimming pool and gym were finished, and a bare-bones PX was expanded with the addition of such items as American fast-food restaurants.

"We didn't have air conditioning at first," she said. "We tried to sleep in a puddle of sweat."

To get a break from the day-to-day monotony, Jones once volunteered to go in a convoy to Baghdad.

"I wanted a break from where I was," she said. "People get edgy when they're around each other all the time."

Jones got another break from the daily grind in March when she got a quick 15-minute visit with her brother, who was at the base with a convoy. Several weeks later, Mark Jr. was back in Kuwait on another trip with a longer layover. On that occasion, Jones' company commander gave her a day off for an unlikely family reunion.

"It was really nice to see him," she said. "I'll be really glad when he gets home, but that will probably be a long time."

Mark Jr. might get to come home in July to see his baby, but his tour in Iraq was expected to last until next June, Jones said.

"I worry about him, and he worried about me just as much, even though I was in a safer spot," she said.

Concern for Mark Jr. is never far from family members' thoughts. The Reservist drives trucks on Iraqi highways from his home base near Tikrit, south to Baghdad and west to Fallujah -- three cities that pretty much define the perimeter of the Sunni Triangle at the core of the violent opposition to American forces.

"They had a mine sweeper explode a mine 400 feet from him," his father said. "He's a driver. He's out on the roads everyday.

"When he goes on a seven-day mission, we don't hear from him for a week. Then his wife calls me and says, 'I got an e-mail from Mark today.' When we don't hear from him, we worry. It was the same way with Lis."

Her company returned home with commendations for its work in Kuwait, Jones said. The 129th was certainly efficient, regularly taking less than half the time to complete a convoy into Iraq than its replacements, she said.

After one week of relaxation at home, Jones grew bored. She now works with Mark Sr. for Craft Tools in Lenexa.

As for the future, Jones said she was planning to start the college education that motivated her enlistment in the Guard. She will start at Johnson County Community College next fall with plans to become an X-ray technician. After completing her course of study there, she will either transfer to a state university or a school in Texas where the Reserve will pick up the bill.

Jones' mother and father noticed a change in their daughter. She's more confident and assured, they said with pride. Mark Sr. said his teasing was now mostly ignored.

That's to be expected, Jones said.

"I was in a company with 53 members, almost all men," she said. "When you're in that kind of situation, you're going to get a lot of teasing. It just rolls off my back now."

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