Summit County has sent several overseas
Vail, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY ” The following are profiles of soldiers with a connection to Summit County.
For 2004 Summit High grad Tom Schwander, the day after his 21st birthday was remarkable in that he set off on a seven-month tour of duty in dusty, dangerous Iraq ” his first deployment as a Marine bound for Anbar Province near Fallujah.
“We know he’s a smart guy and a tough kid and he’ll do absolutely the best that he can ” which I would hope would increase his odds of coming back in one piece,” says Tom’s dad, Tim.
Tim describes his son’s terribly dangerous job as part of a mobile assault patrol combing the streets of Iraq ” essentially looking for trouble. He says of the day to day danger Tom confronts on patrol, “They basically drive around with targets on their backs.”
And as a trained emergency medical technician, Tom also gives support to the Navy corpsmen that act as medics for Marines in the field. That puts Tom in the crosshairs more often than not.
“When (Tom) has called, he’s been surprisingly upbeat and in a pretty good mood,” Tim explains. “But the last time we talked to him, it was starting to wear on him a little bit because one of his friends had gotten killed.”
“You could just tell that it was getting pretty real.”
Tom is one of those local kids pretty much born and raised in Summit County, who finds himself now in the middle of a global conflict, seemingly deteriorating day by day. Tim, mom Kathy, younger brother Bob, and fiancee Krystina Gibbs are the ones here on the homefront praying for his safe return.
“I’ve found it’s the kind of thing that you can’t dwell on. You’ll drive yourself crazy,” Tim says. “We think about him of course, and pray about him every day, but we try not to dwell on it or project ourselves to his situation.”
Like most servicemen, Tom is “all about being there for his fellow Marines,” his dad Tim says.
“He’s just a great guy that’s trying to do the right thing. For him, it’s all about being there for his fellow guys, all sticking together, doing the job and getting back home,” Tim says.
Adding, he says, “They have a job and they go out and do it … their job just happens to be putting their life on the line on the front lines.”
Sam McCleneghan is being interviewed from his Farmer’s Korner home, talking about his son ” Sean ” who is out in the driveway “talking to some buddies.”
Somehow it’s symbolic of something else, though. Less than a month ago, Lance Cpl. Sean McCleneghan was in Iraq, on combat patrol with the First Tank Battalion, Alpha Company, out of Twentynine Palms, Calif.
“It’s obviously nerve-wracking, trying,” Sam says of the time while Sean was deployed to Iraq. “We were glad that he was in tanks, and not infantry. But it’s still stressful because you don’t hear from him for days or weeks at a time.
“As Sean would say, ‘No news is good news’,” Sam says.
During Sean’s seven-month deployment, Sean’s family ” including mother Barbara, fiancee Micaela Kopicky, and his three brothers ” would only hear from him sporadically, for obvious reasons. When they did connect, Sean would talk about his experiences, but not in much depth, Sam says.
“He’s talked about (combat) some, but most of it was positive ” especially about his relationships with other Marines,” he says. “With combat, he doesn’t want to talk about it much.”
From the way Sam tells it, Sean’s got a pretty complex set of responsibilities when he’s with his company. He was trained as a tank mechanic, but on combat missions Sean is a machine gunner. And when firing the main cannon, Sean is the loader and the radio man.
It’s fortunate that no one in Sean’s battalion was killed during his deployment. Close-calls included IEDs exploding nearby, and suicide attacks by cars wired to blow up battalion tanks.
Today, though, Sean is enjoying the comforts of Summit County ” the place he’s called home his whole life.
“You have volunteered to be on the pointy end of the spear. You have volunteered not just to go into harm’s way, but you have volunteered to live in harm’s way.”
Tim Gurule gets emotional when he reads those words, taken from a speech by retired Brigadier Gen. Mark Brennan, given at U.S. Army Ranger Indoctrination Program graduation earlier this year. Gurule was there ” proudly so ” to watch his son, Timothy, take another step toward joining one of the world’s most elite fighting force, the Rangers.
Remembering the powerful speech, Tim’s voice cracks with emotion.
“I understand the job my son signed on for. I know what it takes to defend this country. He knows what it takes, and he’s living that life.”
When the 49-year-old father of a soldier talks about how far his son has come in such a short time, beyond his obvious pride, his own more personal passions come out in the conversation. He says that since 9/11, he’s tried to enlist in the service four times ” denied each time because of his age.
Timothy came to live with his father in eighth grade, choosing Summit County as the place in Colorado he’d most like to live. Timothy’s mom and two sisters, and another sister, live in Las Vegas today.
A four-year athlete in football and wrestling, and a member of the swimming and diving team, Gurule graduated Summit High School in 2006, announcing to much of his family at graduation that he was joining the army.
Quickly separating himself during 14 weeks of basic training in Fort Benning, Ga., Gurule was honored to “carry the rock” for his group at graduation. Importantly, though, he also was approached about joining the Rangers.
Gurule is now at Fort Lewis in Washington state, with the 275th Rangers, where he’s learning Arabic and readying to deploy by July.
“By this time next month, he’ll be in Iraq,” said his girlfriend, Summit High senior Madelyne Ridenhour. “I’m proud of him, but it’s scary.”
Summit High 2005 graduate Chris Marvin has lived in Summit County his whole life, growing up active in the Boy Scouts, rising to the rank of Eagle. His father, Bill, talks about Chris’ success in the annual Soap Box Derby ” Chris went to the nationals in Akron, Ohio, in both 2000 and 2002.
He’s graduated up to different type of machine today ” he’s a crew chief on a CH-46 marine helicopter with the 262 Flying Tigers airwing out of Okinawa, Japan.
“He’s always liked the thought of being involved with helicopters,” Bill Marvin says. “That was what made him (join).”
Chris has been all over the country since joining the Marines. He’s been training for nearly a year and a half at bases in Pensacoloa, Fla., Maine, and Camp Pendleton in California.
“He’s ready for this,” Bill Marvin says. “(Chris) says, ‘This is what I’ve been trained for.’ He wants to do it.”
At the time of the interview with Bill, his son Chris’ military career was in the middle of a major change.
“He is on his way as we speak,” Bill says, detailing Chris’ trip from Okinawa to Tokyo to Washington D.C. to Kuwait City, and eventually Anbar Province in western Iraq.
“I’m very nervous for him, but you try to talk to him about it, and it’s just something he’s always wanted to do. I wasn’t real excited about it, to tell you the truth,” Bill says.
Bristling at a question about how the war is being perceived here at home, he says, “I’m just supporting my son. I want him to come back home alive and in one piece. And I want all the other kids to come home in one piece, too.”
Susan Anderson is the mother of a soldier already twice-deployed to Iraq ” Spc. Shelby Anderson ” and even though Shelby is today safely with the 101st Airborne in Fort Campbell, Ky., he’s likely bound for Iraq again in September.
“You see people just kind of living their lives here ” kids go off to college and everything is just the American dream ” and then for those of us that have people in the military … it’s just really sobering,” Susan says.
“This is just a wonderful community in every way, but I think that people just don’t know,” she adds.
The Andersons have been in Summit County since 1996; Shelby’s sisters, Whitney and Sierra, you might recognize as athletic standouts at Summit High over the years. Shelby himself attended area schools until his senior year, when he transferred to the Alaska Military Youth Academy, his first step toward a fulfilling military career that began after graduation from the academy in 2002.
“He feels like he’s making a difference, and feels pretty patriotic,” Susan says of her son, who recently signed up for another five years of service in the Army.
Set to return to the war in September, Susan tells a number of scary stories about Shelby’s first two deployments ” first in Iraq’s dangerous Sadr City, second in Diyala Province, an area increasingly known as a hotbed for al-Qaeda insurgents.
She recounts a friendly fire incident that nearly ensnared Shelby. She tells of his good fortune when a shaped-charge IED exploded in the opposite direction. Another time, a wire strung across the road “knocked his helmet off.”
“I just know that God has protected him,” she says. “You just get to a point when you’re almost numb. You just can’t think about it, otherwise you’d go crazy.”
Her coping mechanism? Staying active by coordinating care packages to send to all the troops with Summit County connections.
“That helps me feel like I’m doing something, to keep me busy,” she says.
At the same time as Chief Dave Parmley, locally well-known for leading the Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Authority, was being interviewed for this story, his son Andrew was waiting at a base on the other side of the world, in Kuwait.
Within weeks, the 3rd Infantry combat medic and Summit County local will be stationed in Baghdad ” his first deployment since training at both Fort Sam Houston in Texas and Fort Stewart near Savannah, Geo.
“It does change the whole dynamic having him over there. It’s hard not to have your thoughts gravitate that way. There’s definitely a degree of uneasiness with the state of things as they are over there,” Dave Parmley says.
Andrew’s mom Kathy talks about his passion for the country, and how his first foray into the service with the Air Force left Andrew feeling like he could do more, prompting a switch over to the Army.
“Andrew loves history. He loves American history. He loves the country and the freedoms of this country. He felt obligated to serve to protect those freedoms,” she says.
His passion for history is plain in a letter he wrote recently. It is entitled, “Dear Summit County,” and its first line reads: “For all the free people that still protest, you’re welcome.” The letter became a flashpoint for Summit County citizens in the Opinion section of the paper after it was published.
Reticent to get into the politics of the war, however, Kathy isn’t immune from commenting on the debate that her son’s letter sparked.
“It’s just so hard to say that you’re for the war or against it. I truly believe that the cause is right ” I’m not sure that we need to still be there,” she says. “It’s hurtful to see all of the protests.”