Local soldiers now at Iraq war

1st Lt. Charles Neveau, shown at the time of his graduation from flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., in September. Submitted photo

Last Wednesday Joe and Vickie Neveau of Enterprise spent the evening running back and forth from the television set to the computer as the first reports of bombs falling in the war with Iraq were reported.

They are among a number of anxious parents in Wallowa County keeping an especially wary eye on war news because of sons or daughters in the armed forces and directly involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The couple hadn't heard from their son Charlie, a 2001 West Point graduate and a Tomahawk helicopter pilot, since he was deployed from Germany to Kuwait 11 days before.

"We were hoping he'd shoot us off an e-mail," said Vickie Neveau Monday. There has still been no word from her son this week .

"I knew that once the shooting started, we wouldn't hear from him, but he'd been there for 11 days, so we'd been hoping," said Neveau. She described their mood as being "anxious" and "very on edge since this all started."

A Prayer Vigil at the Enterprise Christian Church Wednesday night "in support of the troops" helped, she said, as does the support and well-wishes of all of Wallowa County.

Charles Neveau is a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army who graduated from flight school in Fort Rucker, Ala., in September, an event attended by his proud parents. He'd been newly stationed in Germany as a rear detachment commander when he received word that he would be deployed to Kuwait. After his orders were changed several times, he had just enough time to send a quick e-mail to his parents Sunday, March 9, that he was leaving for the Middle East.

"He said that he would have two positions, as an executive officer of a forward deployed air control company and he would also be attached to the 'flight company of UH-60 Blackhawks' as an aviator," she said.

She remembered when he was in the midst of uncertainty in Germany that he had told her, "Don't be surprised if I just disappeared." While happy that he'd been able to get a message sent before his deployment, more than two weeks without word - especially now that the fighting has started - is a long time.

Phone calls like one received from Donna Bronson of Joseph, mother of soldier Clayton Bronson, helps. "She told me that every time she prays for her son, she prays for mine, too," said Vickie Neveau.

A number of members of the U.S. Navy are also stationed in the Persian Gulf, including Nicholas Shirley, a 2001 graduate of Enterprise High School who is assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Mediterranean Sea. He works in aviation support on the ship, which is part of a battle group fighting in the Gulf.

"I'm hoping he's OK," said his mother, Janice, Monday. "Everyone tells me he's relatively safe where he is." She received her last phone call from him two weeks ago when his ship had pulled into port at Greece for the first time in two months.

"They have to be careful what they say, just general stuff," she said. He did report that one other local sailor, Brandon DuBois of Joseph, was working on the USS Harry Truman, which is also in the Mediterranean Sea.

Another confirmed local man in Kuwait as the war got under way last week is Dusty Botham, a 2000 Joseph High School graduate and a Seabee with the U.S. Navy. According to his father, Rocky Botham, he is attached to a U.S. Marine unit as an equipment mechanic, and has been in Kuwait for five months.

Though he was actually expected to be sent home because his tour of duty is about finished, he opted to stay longer.

"Yes, I'm worried, it's natural to be," said Botham about his son.

Some local parents are either not sure of their military sons and daughters exact location, or they are still waiting for the shoe to drop.

Capt. Mark Haines, son of Chuck and Carleene Haines of Enterprise, for example, is expecting to leave for the Middle East in about a week. His departure for the war zone from Fort Carson, Colo., was delayed because of global politics - the Blackhawk helicopters his Medi Vac unit will be flying over there have been stuck on a ship off the shore of Turkey, which declined to be a staging area for U.S. ground troops.

Haines, who has been training National Guardsmen at Fort Carson for the past few weeks, and other men in his unit are expected to be flown over within a week.

Donna Bronson, who made the comforting call to Vickie Neveau as an empathetic mother-in-arms, said she is not allowed to say much about the whereabouts or activities of her son Clayton, a 1995 graduate of Joseph High School who enlisted in the Army in 1996. "We assume he's in the area" of the fighting and "we are very proud of him. That's all I can say."

She added, speaking for thousands of others in the same situation throughout the nation: "We're anxious, like all parents. We pray a lot. He's in the Lord's hands."

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