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Families of troops carry the burden alone

Volunteer army affects a select few

By TOM KANE

LIVINGSTON MANOR, NY - Little Geri Gaebel, age six, misses her uncle, Sergeant Joseph Hernandez, who is in Iraq serving his fourth tour. When she talked to Hernandez on the phone a few weeks ago, Hernandez asked her, “What can I get you for Christmas?”

“I want you to come home so I can give you a big hug,” Geri said. Sometimes, when Geri talks about her uncle, she starts to cry.

“That’s the main thing Geri wants for Christmas,” said her grandmother, Dolores Delgado, Hernandez’ mother.

Delgado, the organizer of a support group made up of the relatives of soldiers and sailors called the Sullivan County Armed Forces Support Group, held a fundraiser for the troops at Kings Catering in Livingston Manor on Friday, November 2.

Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends of troops stationed overseas, most of them in Iraq and Afghanistan, gave this reporter an opportunity to find out how they were dealing with the absence of their loved ones, not only absent but many of them “in harm’s way.”

These families are among the small number of Americans who are making large daily sacrifices for the war effort, unlike in World War Two, or in the Korean War, or even in the Vietnam War when many people had to sacrifice in a number of ways.

“If you haven’t a loved one in the military, you haven’t a clue how hard it is,” Delgado said.

“My daughter is serving in the Air Force,” said Erika Barth, co-owner of Kings. “This is what my daughter wanted to do. She wants to make a career of it. She signed up just as the war was getting started. She is proud of what she is doing. These young people are the most wonderful people you’d ever want to meet. ”

Megan Bosque, Hernandez’s girlfriend, struggles every day with the fear that he may be another casualty.

“I try to be optimistic,” she said. “I spend a lot of time with his family. If I can’t be with him, I can be with his family.” Her son, CJ Hinton, lights a candle on the Internet for Hernandez and sends it to him.

Mary Turner, whose son, PFC James Vandermark, is serving his first tour in Iraq, struggles with the fear every day. “My first thought of the day and my last thought at night is of him and his safety,” she said.

Valerie Cangialosi’s son, Specialist Michael Cangialosi, 23, will be deployed to Iraq in a few weeks. “You have to put the fear in a box. Keep it separate. Keep the lid on. Try not to think it is happening. It takes its toll in the middle of the night when I wake in a nightmare. Every time the phone rings I will hold my breath.”

“When I don’t hear from him, I start to get crazy,” said Laurie Frisbie, whose brother, Staff Sergeant Frank Baurenfeind, has been in Iraq since last September.

What is especially hard for many is that the general public is turning against the war, as happened in Vietnam. Opinions varied about the effect of this change in sentiment.

“I support the troops, but I don’t support the war,” Turner said. “Enough is enough. I want them to bring the troops home.”

“I can understand the opposition,” Cangialosi said. “It’s possible to be for the troops but against the war. We want them to come home. The numbers are only going to get higher.”

“They’re misguided,” said Balsey DeWitt, whose grandson is in Iraq. “We’re defending ourselves. Once you’re in a war, what can you do? I have mixed feelings about opposition to the war. They have the right [to oppose it].

“So many are critical of the president,” said the mother of a soldier who would not give her name. “He’s my son’s commander-in-chief. When you disrespect him, you are disrespecting everybody in the military. It hurts the soldiers when you criticize the president.”

“When people are speaking against them [the troops], it’s disgusting,” Barth said.

Even with this range of opinions on the war, one thing was clear. Family is family, and while the miles separate them, their hearts beat in harmony with the anxiety and the uncertainty, and the desire to be united, safely, together again.

To donate to the Sullivan County Armed Forces Support Group or for more information contact Delgado at 845/791-5656.

TRR photo by Tom Kane
Dolores Delgado, a mother of a soldier in Iraq, joins with others to support our troops. (Click for larger version)