1st Lt. Willie Baynes, a 2002 graduate of West Point Academy, was recently deployed to Iraq with the first Stryker Battalion Combat Team from Ft. Lewis, Wash.
The son of Lew and Carol Baynes of Joseph, he graduated from Joseph High School in 1998, becoming the second student from Wallowa County in two years to be accepted to the U.S. Army's military academy.
According to his mother, Baynes made his first phone call home from Iraq on Saturday, Jan.10, coincidentally at the same time as the county's other West Point grad, helicopter pilot Charley Neveau, was home on leave from Iraq.
Carol Baynes said that her son had left for the Middle East at the end of November and spent several weeks in Kuwait before being sent to Iraq.
"He is stationed in Mosul, north of Baghdad. They are in the process of replacing the 101st Airborne," said Carol Baynes about her soldier son. She said there are only 3,500 in the Stryker battalion, compared to 15,000 in the division it is replacing. "They are really cutting back," she said.
Lt. Baynes is with the B Company in charge of the 1st Platoon of about 45 men. In the platoon there are four Strykers - the new mobile armored vehicle which is much more mobile than a tank, and is being used in a war situation for the very first time.
Carol Baynes said that his company was involved in one recent fire fight in which 11 Iraqis were killed.
Baynes said that, unfortunately, she was not home at the time of the lone phone call from their son, but reported her husband as saying, "Boy, he sounds really good." The phone call and one brief e-mail was all the direct communication the Joseph family has had since Willie Baynes left the U.S., but his mother is hopeful that now that he is in a permanent location they will hear from him more frequently.
Carol Baynes admits that she can't help but worry about her son, but notes that driving a car or doing a lot of things in every day life can also be dangerous.
She reports that her son sounded much more positive about Iraq than is often heard in the media. "They really are making progress as far as getting things set up for a more workable government," she said. "The military is doing a lot more than just protecting themselves. ... We are making a difference over there, but it is a huge, huge undertaking."
She quoted from a story written by a reporter embedded with the Stryker team that an Iraqi doctor said to a commander with the team, "Thank you for our freedom."
Baynes added that her family appreciates all the support received from the community.