Western Slope brothers reunited in Iraq | VailDaily.com

Western Slope brothers reunited in Iraq

April E. Clark

Special to the DailyCraig and Trent Tharp in Iraq.

NEW CASTLE ” Trent Tharp loved playing Army with his brother down by the creek when he was a youngster.

He’d even dress the part, donning his Uncle Carl’s green uniform.

What was once make-believe for the New Castle man is now reality. Today, at 31, Tharp can be found in the middle of the Green Zone between Baghdad and Sadr City, Iraq, wearing sand-colored Army fatigues.

There are now no longer play guns or plastic grenades, and the difference between life or death in Iraq can amount to seconds ” and luck.

“About fate, I actually had this conversation today with my squad in my Humvee,” said Tharp, via e-mail from his post in Iraq. “We had just occupied an area and as soon as we left, it was hit with machine-gun fire, RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), hand grenades and Vbied (a vehicle-born improvised explosive devise, or car bomb).

“We all said it was fate that we had just left, so yes I do believe in fate.”

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Fate seems to be on Tharp’s side lately.

Trent’s 35-year-old brother, Craig, also went from playing Army to the real thing. He was recently stationed at the same base as his brother in Iraq. The siblings are both Rifle High School graduates.

“To be honest, I didn’t find out that we were going to be at the same FOB (forward operating base) until about two days before I got here,” Trent said. “I was really excited to see him. So I kept it quiet and the first thing I did when I got here was talked to Craig’s sergeant major and found out where he was living so I could go and surprise him.

“I really don’t think that he recognized me at his door,” Trent continued. “It had been four or five years since I saw him last ” but it was great seeing him, not to mention the look on his face.”

The brothers’ parents, Ralph and LaVeta Tharp, were pleasantly surprised to hear the news of their sons’ overseas reunion.

“I asked Trent, ‘How far are you from Craig?’ and he said, ‘Just a minute, mom.’ Then Trent came on the phone,” said LaVeta, from her New Castle home. “My heart dropped. I was shaking all over.”

It was the kind of news that a military mom lives for.

Craig was just as surprised to learn the two were on the same base.

“At about 1800 hours (6 p.m.), there was a knock at my door and my roommate answered it. At first my roommate thought he was in trouble for something because of my brother’s rank … then he saw the name tape and realized it was my brother,” Craig said.

“I was in shock when he said it was for me and that it was Trent. It was pretty cool to see Trent for the first time in about two years.”

While stationed together, Craig was promoted to specialist. Trent, a staff sergeant, had the honor of pinning him. That makes Dad proud.

“They’re just good, all-American boys,” Ralph said. “I tell them every time I talk to them I’m proud, and all my friends really appreciate the good job they’re doing.”

Trent’s wife, Bethany, is five months pregnant and staying with LaVeta until the couple’s third baby is born. “I’m very proud of him,” she said. “He’s our hero.”

Trent and Bethany, who met while working at City Market in Glenwood Springs, have been married for 10 years. Six of those have included Trent’s service in the Army. When he’s not deployed, he and his family are stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany.

“He comes and goes a lot, but he does the best he can,” said Bethany. “The fact that he’s with his brother is cool. And I talk to him every other day and we have e-mail and instant messaging. I’m just waiting for him to come home.”

Bethany’s sister-in-law, Christine, shares the same feelings. She said over the last two years, Craig has been with his family a total of seven months. But, much like Bethany and the rest of the sprawling Tharp family, Christine holds her husband in the highest respect.

“He didn’t have to join, especially being 33 when he did enlist. He stood up to the plate and took on a huge commitment, one that many 18 year olds are afraid to do,” Christine said from her home in Texas.

“He knew he was going to be without his family and friends for a long time. He knew he was going to be missing many things back here at home,” she said. “But he is strong-willed and very committed to anything he does and I love him for that. I have always stood by his side and will always be there.”

Love and commitment have kept Christine focused on raising the couple’s four daughters ” the oldest 13, the youngest nearly 1. She said the most difficult aspect of military life is watching the effect on the kids.

“It’s been very hard not having his help with the kids. But its been harder because he has missed so much ” Jade cutting her first teeth, walking, saying ‘da da’ for the first time,” she said.

“It has been extremely hard on Jordan (age 5). There are days when she cries uncontrollably for him and I have to remind her that he is off protecting other little kids, trying to make it so they have a safe place to live and to grow up ” a place where they won’t be judged for their beliefs.”

Christine recalled a tender moment when Craig and Jordan were talking on the phone.

“She said, ‘Daddy, do the little kids you are protecting have toys to play with?’ and he replied, ‘Not like the toys you and your sisters have … we hand out Beanie Babies to them.’ She then said, ‘Well, I am going to go through my toys and pick out the ones I don’t play with anymore and send them to you so that the kids that don’t have any will have toys to play with,'” Christine said.

A Navy man himself, Ralph tries not to think too much about the war, and the dangers that surround his sons. And like his daughters-in-law, he keeps a positive perspective to stay strong. “It’s just constant worry every time I watch the news or hear about a car bombing,” he said. “I just sit by the phone and pray.”

All Trent asks is that his family and others pray for those lost in battle.

“It is a hard life, and most of us here do it so that our families can have a safe future,” he said. “Cherish the time you have with your families. When they are not around, you realize just how important they are.

“It’s nice to know that people back home care about us over here. Sometimes it feels like we are just forgotten over here and that all civilians hear about is the loss of life and the bad things that happen here in Iraq,” he said. “I believe we are doing the right thing here, compared to last time I was here. You can actually see the improvement, structurally and with in the people.”

Craig wants people to remember the positive changes taking place in Iraq ” and the commitment of U.S. soldiers.

“Sometimes I do feel like we should not be here, but then I look at the kids and remember what Jordan said to me about me protecting the people and the little kids here from the bad guys, like when I was a police officer,” he said. “It takes a lot out of a person to be here, not only for themselves emotionally, but also for the families we leave behind to do what is asked of us.”

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado