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Archive for Saturday, August 13, 2005

Lawrence doctor and mother of 2 heads back to Iraq

Second tour brings feelings of pride, sadness to family

August 13, 2005

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Dr. Natalie Griego already did one stint in Iraq, right when the war started in 2003. Her family was hoping she could avoid a return trip.

But four weeks ago, Griego, a Lawrence resident and a major in the Colorado National Guard, received word she is being called up for a second tour of duty.

"I don't know that being in Iraq is the hard part," said Griego, a physician with St. Francis Health Center's Topeka Emergency Care. "It's leaving my kids and my family and friends that's hard and knowing there are people concerned about you and praying for you."

Griego will leave behind her husband, Jeff Krall, and two sons, Reece, 4, and Logan, 1, in Lawrence, on Friday.

Krall said it's a difficult situation for everyone involved. He said he's still trying to figure out who will take care of his children while he works 24-hour shifts as a firefighter and paramedic with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical.

Jeff Krall tries to keep control of the family's energetic dog, Boots, while his wife, Natalie Griego, holds their 1-year-old son, Logan. Griego, a physician, will leave for training for a second tour in Iraq on Friday. It has become increasingly common for service personnel, including doctors, to serve multiple tours. This time, Griego will be away from her family for more than three months.

Jeff Krall tries to keep control of the family's energetic dog, Boots, while his wife, Natalie Griego, holds their 1-year-old son, Logan. Griego, a physician, will leave for training for a second tour in Iraq on Friday. It has become increasingly common for service personnel, including doctors, to serve multiple tours. This time, Griego will be away from her family for more than three months.

But he said he and Griego are receiving support from co-workers and friends. It also is an emotional time, Krall said.

"But I know she (Natalie) is proud of what she does," he said.

The Lawrence family isn't rare. Officials say that a growing number of National Guard members are serving their second - and even third - tours of duty since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, taking tolls on families that once expected to lose loved ones only for two weeks of training a year.

Serving time

Griego has served in the Guard for 12 years. She said she has about a year of obligation left to the armed services.

But the military's need for physicians in Iraq put her in line for a return to the war. She will be stationed at Camp Anaconda near the Balad Airbase, 42 miles north of Baghdad, with troops based out of North Carolina.

Joy Moser, a spokeswoman for the Kansas National Guard, said it has become common for members to serve multiple tours of duty, and medical personnel are no exception to that rule.

"Certainly, there is a need for medical personnel over there," Moser said. "People are getting hurt, and someone has to take care of them."

Moser couldn't say how many doctors and nurses are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Information on the matter wasn't readily available from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Kansas National Guard currently has about 1,700 soldiers serving overseas. Earlier this week, about 500 Kansas Army National Guard soldiers were mobilized for deployment to Iraq. Included in that group are members of the guard's Second Battalion, 137th Infantry. The battalion is based in Kansas City, Kan., and has units in Wichita and Lawrence.

Time served by reserve physicians, dentists and certified registered nurse anesthetists are based on 90-day rotations.

Natalie Griego pushes her 4-year-old son, Reece Griego Krall, on the swingset in their backyard. Griego will be leaving for her second tour in Iraq as a physician and will be away from her family for more than three months.

Natalie Griego pushes her 4-year-old son, Reece Griego Krall, on the swingset in their backyard. Griego will be leaving for her second tour in Iraq as a physician and will be away from her family for more than three months.

"It's 90 days boots on the ground, which means my time will start as soon as I am in Iraq," Griego said.

She said she was replacing another physician currently in the field.

The 90-day rule for physicians was put in place after Desert Storm because some doctors lost their practice when they returned home. Nothing prevents doctors from extending their time, Moser said, but Griego said she didn't expect to do so.

Family rituals

When Griego was called to serve in Iraq in 2003, she received two days of notice. She had to shut down her private practice in Goodland during the time before her departure and make plans for her family.

"I think her biggest worry was that she would come home and Reece wouldn't recognize her," Krall said.

Griego waits for a helicopter to take off while serving in Iraq,

Griego waits for a helicopter to take off while serving in Iraq,

He said he kept Griego in Reece's mind by creating a ritual where they would kiss a picture of her every morning and every night.

"We'll do the same thing with Logan," he said.

Griego said she would miss her family and that leaving them would be terrible. But she said she thought family friends would form a good support system.

"It is going to be hard leaving everyone," she said. "But I think it will be worth it. My service makes me very proud, and I think it makes me a better person and better at everything I do."

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