Having buddies on front lines worrisome for Pacific troops
April 4, 2003
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — War may be hell, but some of those in uniform are learning that having to watch it on television is no romp in the park either.
“I would really like to be there, side by side with my friends, watching their backs,” said Airman 1st Class Andrew Gonzalez, 20, a maintenance worker. “Definitely, I’d go.”
Several airmen who work at the 35th MXS Maintenance Squadron, where Gonzalez repairs F-16 fighter ejection seats and canopies, have been at an air base in the Persian Gulf for the past several months. Now, like thousands of friends and family members around the world, Gonzalez watches the conflict march daily across television screens.
“It’s a little nerve-racking; these are people I care about, and I want them to come back,” he said.
Gonzalez said to bring them home safely, he’s counting on the training they have been given — basic training, technical schools and periodic war exercises held at Misawa.
“I have complete trust in their training. I trained along with them, and I know they’re prepared,” he said.
He is especially concerned about his friend Justin. Both were 2001 graduates of MacArthur High School in Lawton, Okla., where they were offensive linemen.
About a year before Gonzales joined the Air Force, Justin (whose last name is withheld for security reasons) joined the Army National Guard. Now he’s with an artillery unit with the 3rd Infantry Division advancing deep within Iraq’s borders.
Justin “is a ground pounder who was always teasing me about being in the ‘chair force,’ ” Gonzalez said. “He said since we were in the football trenches, we should be together in the trenches over there, too.”
For now, Gonzalez says, he hopes to learn of Justin’s whereabouts, and if he’s safe, by e-mail.
“I check my mail every day hoping he’ll send me a message,” he said. “But it never comes.”
There are a few more empty seats at the Misawa Hospitality Center off base near Misawa’s Falcon Gate these days.
Staff Sgt. Jason Colvin, petroleum, oil and lubricants B-shift supervisor for Misawa’s 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron, says that’s because several who attended fellowship nights there are now deployed to the Middle East.
“Michael,” whom Colvin calls a close friend, “I keep in my prayers.”
“A few troops from my unit have been over there since October, and a buddy in New Mexico who used to be here at Misawa is over there, too,” said Colvin, 28, an eight-year veteran.
He was due to go to the region himself until other duty commitments “pulled me off the rotation.”
“I haven’t heard from anybody lately that I know who is over there,” he said. “But there are some restrictions making morale calls right now, too.”
Colvin has seen the calling card of terrorists, having been in Saudi Arabia in the summer of 1996 helping to clean up rubble following the Khobar Towers terrorist explosion that killed 19 airmen.
“Walking through the building and seeing bloody handprints on the wall, that really hits home,” he said.
Colvin says he remains a volunteer for duty in the Middle East.
“I got a bag packed and ready to go,” he said.
U.S. Marines have a major presence on the Iraqi battlefields. Some Marines doing live-fire training at Camp Fuji on Monday are mindful that many buddies are part of the action.
“I would trade places with them with no hesitation,” Lance Cpl. Yuri Perry, 19, a combat engineer with Combat Assault Battalion from Camp Schwab, Okinawa, said.
Perry said he’s concerned with the safety of fellow Leathernecks, many who also went to other Middle East hotspots.
“Many of my buddies in combat school told me they were going straight to Afghanistan when they graduated, of course I’m concerned with them.”
Not having access to a laptop says Perry, of St. Petersburg, Fla., keeps him from keeping in touch with friends.
“I hope they do their best out there,” he said. “They’re part of my original family from boot camp.”
Pfc. Henry Rodriquez, 20, is a Marine integrated maintenance specialist, or logistics clerk, says he’s not spending too much time watching the Iraqi situation.
“We have to watch this part of the world, but I would go over in a heartbeat,” said Rodriquez with 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines from Okinawa’s Camp Hansen.
He knows of Marine buddies with the 2nd Forces Service Support Group from Camp Lejuene, N.C., that “are probably over in Iraq right now.”
Watching CNN for war news is commonplace, said Sgt. John Colman, a 22-year-old assistant S-3 operations chief with Schwab’s 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines.
“Our intelligence unit keeps us well briefed too,” he said.
Quite a few of his buddies from infantry training school, and a previous assignment at Camp Lejeune, are in Iraq.
“I’m concerned for their safety, but they have the proper training to get them through this,” said the Ivanhoe, Minn., native. “I wish I can be over there, but we have a purpose in this part of the world, too.”
Contrary to fellow Marines relishing the chance to get into the Iraqi fray, Lance Cpl. Edward Colea, a radio operator with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines deployed to Okinawa for six months from Camp Lejeune, takes a decidedly different path.
“I don’t care to go over there,” he said. “It’s hot as hell, and I don’t feel like getting shot at.”
— Juliana Gittler contributed to this report.