The relief, which swept the nation when Baghdad fell to U.S. troops, has given way to uneasiness as each day brings reports of new attacks against American soldiers.
For the parents, wives and other family members of the troops still in Iraq, the fear has far from subsided. The shift from war to occupation has also brought with it delays in return dates for soldiers.
"We thought he would be able to come home the first of June, but that was cancelled," said Brenda Birdsong, speaking about her son, James Michael Birdsong who is still in Northern Iraq. "Now he is guessing it will be around the first of August." Brenda keeps a close eye on the news. "In ways I am more worried now than when the war was on. Now we don't know who or where the enemy is."
The Thomaston Times contacted family members of soldiers from Upson County or with local connections and learned that at least nine local soldiers are still serving in harm's way. Another 12 have returned from the Middle East to their home bases, many getting to visit briefly in Upson County with family members.
Still In Danger
Like Birdsong, Thomaston native Eric Boyd is still serving in Northern Iraq.
"We don't think he will be back until early fall," said mother Cindy Partridge. "He is over there trying to keep the peace. I am still very worried. This upsets me fiercely, because my baby isn't home yet."
On May 20, Cindy's other son, Jeremy, joined in Army and is in Fort Benning.
"Eric is stationed in Kentucky and Jeremy wants to be where his brother is," said Cindy. "When he does, Jeremy will be working on the Black Hawk Helicopters and Eric will be jumping out of them."
According to Thomaston's Shirley McClellan, her son-in-law,Gary Rowley, is somewhere north of Baghdad.
"He moves very frequently," she said. "We still worry because of all the unrest and discontent. We thought he would be home in June, but now it looks like sometime in September or October."
Damon Sanders is another of Thomaston's Soldiers in Iraq. "Right now he is doing some humanitarian work setting up ospitals," said his mother Judy Sanders. "He feels he had to do a lot of things he was not proud of, and this is a way he feels like he is giving back, helping instead of destroying."
Judy looks for Damon to return home on July 20.
For a short two weeks, Dan Brue was able to visit home, but now he is back in Kuwait, where he was first assigned in October 2002. Dan's job is to keep up with strikes and troop movement in Kuwait. "He is in charge of the control center in Kuwait," said Hallman (his mother.) "He said he feels bad because his work area is air conditioned and the other soldiers are out in the heat."
Nearly every evening, Thomaston's Sheila Amy hears from her husband, Tom, who is serving in Afghanistan. Still, even though he is not in Baghdad, violence is still ongoing where Amy is serving. "He is still in a war zone, a war-stricken country," said Sheila. "I am still very scared."
Larry James Daniel's family is keeping their fingers crossed for his return at the end of October. "He was supposed to come home this month," explained brother Stanley.
Rodney Mallory's awaits his return. "We are still waiting and don't know when he will come home," said his sister Toni Mallory. We're still scared for him."
Christopher Michael Harris is also in Iraq, and his family expects him home in September.
A Safe Return
Some Upson County soldiers who have returned to their home bases from serving in the War with Iraq include Jay Caldwell, Kyle Legg, Eric Sanders and Joshua Sanders. Michael Baity and Kelcey Smith are both back in the U.S. and are expected in Thomaston in the coming weeks.
Lewistine Smith was in Virginia when her son Kelcey arrived after an 11-month tour in Kuwait. "I thank God he got back safe."
The last week in May, Vernorris Walker returned to Virginia. "We are glad he is home safe," said his mother Jackie Daniel.
Justin Casteel went home to Fort Bragg in June and Stephen Melton has arrived in Georgia, safely after four months in Iraq.
Andrew Sanders is back at his home base in Japan. "He got back in May," said his mother Jennifer Sanders. He is in the process of cross training. I was able to talk to him this weekend."
Although Artalious Sneed is back on base in Oklahoma, there is still the possibility he may have to go back to Iraq.
"It's not over," said his mother Debra Sneed. "I haven't taken any of my ribbons down, because it is not over." One person from the same base as Sneed was killed recently according to Debra. "I get a weak stomach just thinking about it. We just have to keep praying."
Ref: The Thomaston Times, Thomaston, Georgia, Wednesday, July 9, 2003 2:56 PM CDT, http://www.thomastontimes.com/articles/2003/07/09/news/news01.txt