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All in the family

The Union StaffJohn Christensen (left), a registered nurse at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, is shown here with his son Erik, who is part of the Army's 101st Airborne.
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This weekend, John Christensen will be packing the next year of his life away in a series of green duffel bags.

While his wife, Donna, will be sunbathing and splashing in the water off the coast of Cancun and Cozumel, he will be at the epicenter of America’s new war, most likely somewhere in the Middle East with the rest of his Army detachment of nurses and medical personnel.

And in Kentucky, his son Erik awaits deployment from the 101st Airborne.



Though the elder Christensen has been prepared for the military call for a while now, Uncle Sam seemingly forgot to check the good nurse’s appointment calendar.

During the time he’s away, Christensen can count on missing his 25th wedding anniversary, a cruise to Alaska and the trip to the Mexican Gulf Coast, where his wife and sister-in-law will be next week.




“She’ll be sipping margaritas on the beach while I’m in some foxhole with an M-16,” John Christensen joked Friday as he packed his military gear and downloaded programs on a laptop he is bringing on this mission of mercy.

Christensen, 54, a registered nurse in the emergency department at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, is the second health care professional at the medical facility to be pressed into military service over the past week.

As a member of the U.S. Army Reserve and the 921st Field Hospital based in Sacramento, Christensen will be part of a contingent of doctors and nurses tending to troops somewhere in enemy territory.

Just where, Christensen doesn’t know, but he has got a pretty good guess.

“They haven’t told us,” he said. “It’s basically being kept classified until we get to Europe. They don’t want anybody waiting for us, so to speak.”

Christensen heads first to Fort Lewis, Wash., for some training and vaccines for anthrax and smallpox before landing, he believes, somewhere near Kuwait.

Christensen is jumping into his new assignment with the vigor of a boot-camp graduate.

“The way I look at it, I’ve been training for this all these years,” said Christensen, who hopes to retire from military service next year after 30 years. “It’s kind of what I do.”

He will go over there armed with special skills designed to thwart Saddam Hussein’s suspected “weapons of mass destruction.”

Christensen has served as a nuclear biological/chemical defense officer in the past, training others in chemical attack and decontamination procedures.

That’s why Christensen believes Americans should take the threat of biological warfare seriously.

“I believe (Saddam) has them and I believe he will use them,” he said. “He’s willing to produce and export these materials to other (terrorist sects).”

“I hope to be a powerful resource for us. They know I have the training,” Christensen said of his superiors.

Christensen, who was on active duty from 1966-69, has been in the reserves since 1979. His son, Erik, 20, works at Ft. Campbell, Ky., assigned to the 101st Airborne Division as a legal specialist in the judge advocate general’s office. He, too, is waiting for deployment.

John Christensen, who was one of a few from his Army group not to serve in Desert Storm, is relishing his chance to help the troops this time.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Christensen figured it was a matter of time before his number came up.

“I was so upset, I started packing. I thought we would go sooner,” he said.

A registered Republican, Christensen believes President Bush is doing the right thing.

“We are being directly threatened, even though some people don’t believe it.”

It will not be easy for his wife, but she’s prepared.

“I’ve been following what’s been going on every day since 9/11,” Donna Christensen said. “It’s OK for John and Erik to go. … I have faith that both of them will be returning home safe. I’ve been praying a lot more (lately).”

While he is away, Christensen will also miss the grand opening of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge and Transportation Museum this spring, something he has worked on for the past 20 years.

But time, and apparently the pressures of the world, cannot wait for Christensen, packing his bags at his rustic Nevada City-area home.

“This will be a conclusion to a certain part of my life. It’s OK. I’d rather go out with a bang than a whimper, if you know what I mean.”


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