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Fathers of troops proud yet scared

Dave Moller

Proud yet scared, a number of Nevada County area men will spend Father’s Day wishing their children were home from the military and war zones.

Five dads interviewed by The Union all said they were supportive of their sons and the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of their political bent. They also share a common, sometimes gripping fear that parents of children in war experience, but they persevere with hope.

John Casci

“The main thing I’m always telling him is how proud I am of him,” said John Casci about son Cpl. Shaun Hansen, 21, and now serving with a U.S. Marines intelligence unit in Ramadi, Iraq.

“He’s on his second tour now, but you’re a little calmer on the inside the second time because you feel they’ve been there once and survived, so they understand the situation,” said Casci of Rough and Ready. “But anyone that has a son or daughter in Iraq or Afghanistan definitely has concern for their safety.”

Casci said that concern often causes a fear with a certain physical element many parents of soldiers and sailors experience.

“It’s a constant knot in your stomach like a bad cup of coffee,” Casci said, even though his son is in a relatively safe unit now compared to his first-tour infantry experience.

As the war winds on, there are also fewer inquiries from friends and people in public that know where his son is.

“The wind’s out of the sail in terms of support,” Casci said. “The main thing they fear over there is that we will forget about them, so they appreciate the e-mails and letters” that people send them.

Dana Salisbury

“You worry about it of course, and you just hope he’s safe,” said Dana Salisbury about his son, Dusty Salisbury, 22, and serving with the famous 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan. “You just deal with it because you don’t have much control over it.”

Salisbury lives near Grass Valley and hears from his son sporadically like many families with soldiers overseas.

“He’s coming up on eight months, and he’s close to coming home on leave in August,” Dana said, before being redeployed back to Afghanistan. “He’s a good kid and he’s kind of the wild one, but I can tell he’s matured a lot in the Army just the way he talks.”

Dusty wants to be a helicopter pilot and was going to get his training in the service. This would mean signing up for another hitch, however, and Dusty does not want to do that.

“So when he comes home, we’ll get him private lessons,” Dana said, and his son will fly.

Clint Nestell

“I’m Christian and I believe God is protecting him and a whole lot of other people over there,” said Clint Nestell of Nevada City about son Ryan Nestell, 22, who is also in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, but in Iraq.

“I thought he was crazy when he joined, but Ryan can make a lot of difference for people,” said Clint, a U.S. Air Force veteran of Vietnam. “He was a (football) coach at Lyman Gilmore” and a natural leader before he left two years ago.

Nestell believes his Vietnam experience gives him a unique perspective. He is in full support of the troops but believes they should be home this Christmas to protect their homeland.

“Once we have begun (not after) pulling out of the Middle East, we need to boost our homeland security many times over,” Nestell said. “Because when we are not on their doorstep, then they will most likely be upon our doorstep and the young men and women whom we are so proud of should be standing tall and strong right here in America.”

Mark Helm

“My son just got back and he’s in Japan,” said Mark Helm of Downieville. Son and Senior Airman Patrick Helm, 25, was at a U.S. Air Force base 40 miles outside of Baghdad and is scheduled to go back.

“I think what he’s doing is important,” said Mark, who works in Grass Valley. “If we weren’t over there, they would probably be over here.”

At the same time, Helm sees the war as a energy wake-up call for the United States.

“We need to have smaller cars that get 40 to 50 mpg, and we wouldn’t have to mess with the oil,” he said.

Helm suffers from a common fear: “You’re wondering what’s going to happen.” He keeps the risks in context when he reads about the high murder rate in Sacramento or the large number of car accidents that kill Americans.

Patrick comes from a big family that sends him messages and packages, that makes thing easier, Helm said.

“It would be a drag over there with no family,” Helm said. “We sent a package and letter to one of his buddies with no family.”

Milt Schmidt

“He joined at 28 after teaching high school for five years,” said Milt Schmidt about his son Steve Schmidt, now 32, and a Captain in the U.S. Army in Iraq. “He joined out of respect for the military, and he was very motivated by 9/11.

Schmidt, of Grass Valley, is a Korean War veteran and well aware of the dangers his son faces.

“I think about it every day but he’s older and more experienced,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes when the phone rings it triggers something even though you try to think positively.

“I have a good idea of what he’s going through and I appreciate what he and the others there are doing.”


To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

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