Increase in fighting puts soldiers, families on hold
Pfc. Shelby Anderson, a former Summit High School student, was supposed to return home from Iraq this month after nearly a year of service in the desert.
Anderson’s parents and three younger sisters – world travelers who live near Breckenridge – eagerly awaited the Ft. Polk, La., reunion celebration initially planned for this month.
But fighting in Iraq took a turn for the worse in April, and just as Anderson was packing up to begin the return trip home, orders came down that plans had changed.
Anderson’s platoon received a new assignment in Al Kut to join Ukrainian troops. Anderson is a cavalry scout with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which received a three-month extension of service in Iraq.
“People were in all stages of coming back,” said Anderson’s mother, Susan. “I cannot imagine being one of the families who received the soldier’s gear and had to mail it back.
“I was in shock that whole day,” she added. “So many times, I’d pictured running up to him at the airport and just hugging him and never letting him go.”
With more than 100 U.S. deaths in April, it wa the deadliest month since President Bush declared the war was over last year. U.S. soldiers are now ordered to kill all armed Iraqis in public who have not joined forces with the U.S.
Pfc. Anderson tells his family not to watch the news and not to worry. His mother, an avid news consumer, still reads some news. “I can’t handle all of it. It’s way too painful,” Susan Anderson said. “It hits way too close to home. It’s someone’s brother or their son. You feel their pain.”
Sometimes comfort comes from a Web site just for military mothers. Susan Anderson also receives uplifting updates from her son’s commander’s wife.
But day in and day out, the mother and her daughters, Sierra, 18, Whitney, 17, and Memory, 14, are submerged in a community that does not feel each soldier’s death, injury or battle triumph as they do.
“The best thing anyone in our community can do is pray for him and all the other men and women,” Susan Anderson said. “I am so thankful when people remember him in their prayers.”
Communications technology has changed since the Gulf War in the early 1990s. E-mails and digital photos supplement the periodic letter. The phone rings in the middle of the night sometimes, due to the time difference.
“It’s this constant roller coaster. You talk to him and you feel good, but the next day you hear something happens, and you’re panicky again,” the mother said.
Pfc. Anderson, now 20, was attending Summit High School when he decided to spend his senior year at the Alaska Military Youth Academy. By the time he graduated, he’d lost 50 pounds and gained self-confidence. He was recently promoted to private first class. His goal is to make a career out of the military.
That wasn’t exactly what his mother had in mind when she took her children to visit several dozen countries as they grew up. She says she wanted them to appreciate other countries as well as their own.
“He is very patriotic and extremely brave. We are very proud of him,” she said.
“Freedom doesn’t come free,” she added. “Regardless of how people feel about this war, we should really support our troops because they are over there risking their lives for us.”