Archive for Monday, December 15, 2003

Area troops, families heartened by news

December 15, 2003


Army Reserve Sgt. Jared Myers was getting set to go to the Kansas City Chiefs game Sunday when he was called downstairs at his Lawrence home to watch the television.

That's when he found out Saddam Hussein had been captured near Tikrit, Iraq.

"I went from being 'hey -- I'm here,' to being really happy," said Myers, who was wounded in October while serving with a civil affairs battalion north of Baghdad, Iraq.

Myers' unit was attached to the Army's 4th Infantry Division -- the same division that provided about 600 soldiers who conducted the operation that, along with Special Forces units, found Saddam hiding in a covered hole in the ground.

"I really wish I was back there -- more than ever," said Myers, 23.

Lawrence-area residents, like people across the nation, watched with fascination as the news of Saddam's capture unfolded on television. Some, like Myers, had personal reasons for watching.

"Sounds like it was awful close to home," said Don Schaake, whose son, Kurt Schaake, is a civilian who has been working in the Tikrit area for the past three months -- and living in one of the dictator's former palaces.

At his Lawrence home, Don Schaake receives e-mail and occasional telephone calls from his son, a civil engineer assisting Iraqis rebuilding the country. But he had not heard from him Sunday.

"This is great news and something I looked forward to hearing," Don Schaake said. "I hope we can get out of there, and the sooner the better."

Vivian June, whose grandson, Sgt. Matthew Decker, is a tank gunner in Iraq with the First Infantry Division, didn't know about Saddam's capture until informed Sunday afternoon by the Journal-World.

"I'm very happy," the Lawrence woman said. "You would hope that this will help wind things down."

June's sentiments were shared by Sue Evans, Lawrence, whose son, Josh Evans, is serving with a communications unit in Iraq. Although she had not heard from her son Sunday, she said she was sure he was enjoying the success of another unit's military operation.

Evans also said she hoped it meant more Iraqis would provide information to American soldiers.

"Josh would say some of the Iraqis were so confused about life," she said. "All of a sudden they had freedom and they didn't know what to do with it."

Sharon Thibodeau, Lawrence, was staying close to the television along with her husband, Joe, watching news updates from Iraq. Their son, Jon-Marc Thibodeau, received the Bronze Star in November for his heroics last spring while serving as a medic with the 101st Airborne Division.

"We were really excited about it," she said. "He (Jon-Marc) said they always hoped they could capture him alive."

Special operations forces

Mark Johnson, Eudora, a former Green Beret who fought in the 1991 war against Iraq, said he wasn't surprised Saddam surrendered without a fight.

"Obviously he loves life," Johnson said. "We never thought he was a fighter, he never had been a fighter. I think he looked like he was relieved to be caught."

Johnson said he thought it was special operations forces who actually fished Saddam out of his hiding hole. Special operations forces, including some of Johnson's former colleagues, have been searching for Saddam the past several months.

"The people on that special operations task force are designed to get this deck of cards -- that's their whole job," Johnson said, referring to the deck of playing cards the military has used to identify and rank Iraqis they wanted to kill or capture. Saddam was at the top of the deck as the ace of spades.

"They knew they were going to get him," Johnson said.

Brian DeToy, commander of the Army ROTC program at Kansas University, agreed.

"I didn't have any doubt that this would happen," he said of Saddam's capture. "Like most Americans I'm thrilled with it and very proud of those soldiers involved."

DeToy thinks it's possible there may be an immediate spike in attacks on Americans, but he also thinks the capture means things are going to get better in Iraq.

Saddam's capture should get the attention of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, DeToy said.

"I think it sends the message that we are going to get our man," he said.

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