Two years of war and protest – Area soldiers’ relatives face daily challenges
Time once spent on hobbies and taking walks is now devoted to staring at computer screens “looking for news of the war, reading military Web sites in the hopes of learning some good news, and waiting for e-mails.”
This is how the war in Iraq – which began two years ago today – has changed the life of Nevada City resident Sharon Hess. It’s been like that ever since her youngest child, Private First Class Lindsey Campbell Anderson, 21, surprised her one April day with the news that she had enlisted in the Army with a start date just a few months away.
Her daughter was 19 years old at the time and had platinum blonde hair down to her knees, Hess said.
“My entire life changed. It is hard to let your baby go to a war.”
But Hess is not alone in Nevada County. Her emotional story is echoed by others throughout the county who have said farewell to their loved ones over the past two years and have found solace in support groups, family and friends.
For these family members of those in service, the stress of wartime uncertainty is coupled with pride and a hope that when the young soldiers return from the battle lines, they will be more mature and better prepared to take on the rest of their lives.
‘Have to trust God’
Some are unable to cope.
Debra Pardee said she quit her job as copy desk chief with The Union newspaper in 2004 because of the stress she was enduring over her son, Army Sgt. Benjamin Pardee, 28, who was fighting overseas in Iraq.
Part of Pardee’s job was to read the national news wire for updates on the war. She said she was losing sleep at night over knowing the news, but not knowing exactly what her son was doing.
“You don’t want to think about your children over there, but when I was (at the newspaper), that was part of my job,” she said.
For many, the “hardest part is just finding out what is going on,” said area resident Dave Ardous, who volunteers with his wife, Cyndy, to support local troops by sending letters, packages, and home-made cookies.
Ardous was in the Navy on active duty during the 1960s, later working as a civilian for the military for 32 years. He said he has been motivated to help because he wants to make soldiers’ homecomings more welcoming than they sometimes were during the Vietnam War era.
“The parents naturally tend to get concerned when they don’t hear anything and sometimes they don’t even know where their son or daughter is,” he said.
“I am not in control anymore. I just have to trust God, she is just so young to be that far away,” Hess said.
There is also a fear that their children might come home having experienced post-tramautic stress syndrome – a condition researchers are finding affects an increasing number of soldiers.
Good things, too
Hess said she is not blind to what could happen to her daughter, but she trusts that the 21-year-old will come home safely.
“All of our soldiers will have a certain amount of stress, but most will reacclimate themselves back to civilian life,” she said.
Hess said she expects her daughter to come back in five months more mature and with a better sense of self-identity. She can tell from their phone conversations that some of these changes have already happened. Besides, it’s not all tragedy and war, she said. “When they are not getting shot at, they are having a blast.”
Hess also proudly talks of her daughter driving military vehicles, explaining how Anderson had left her car in the driveway for over a year and a half when she was a teenager and living at home because she was too afraid to drive. But ultimately, the best thing that has come out of the war, is a new son-in-law, Teddy Anderson, a fellow soldier her daughter met while overseas, Hess said.
The war has also matured Benjamin Pardee, his mother said.
“When he went over he was fired up with conviction and enthusiasm, he is more reserved now and some people would say more mature,” Debra Pardee said. And while the war has politically divided the Pardee family at times between pro-war and anti-war camps, in some ways it has brought her closer to her son.
“I basically had to swallow my politics and support him going over there because of what he believed in,” she said.
A tremendous amount of support has poured out of Nevada County to its overseas soldiers. Shipments of phone cards and Christmas stockings have made their way to Iraq, and soldiers have spoken to schools and at events. Many of these efforts have been coordinated by Nevada County Friends of the Military – a support group founded last fall by Fred Buhler, a retired banker who was recruited to help Iraqi officials lay out their banking laws.
Not everyone in the group has immediate family members that are soldiers; there are some who just want to help, such as the Ardouses.
“(My wife’s) nephew enlisted in the Marine Corps a few years ago, and she got really interested in helping,” Dave Ardous said, adding that “we both were around during Vietnam, and we wanted to make sure that we could do our part for these kids and prevent the kind of animosity and homecoming that a lot of the Vietnam vets had.”
The group meets once a month, discussing most everything that affects soldiers’ families and friends, while steering clear of politics, Buhler said.
“Our purpose is to support the troops, not debate political issues. This is an emotionally challenging time and it is helpful to have a supportive environment,” he said.
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