Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Local sons and daughters off to war

Published in the Current and the American Journal; co-written with Brendan Moran and Robert Lowell

As war drums beat louder, many local servicemen and women already are on the move, getting ready to fight a war with Iraq. They leave behind families who anxiously watch the news and hope for their safe return.

Tyler Dunphy, the Westbrook school department’s network administrator, went on active duty two weeks ago, after being in the Army Reserves for the last two years. Dunphy said he was reluctant to leave behind his wife, who is pregnant with their first child.

“I don’t want to leave my wife with her baby,” said Dunphy. “I don’t want to leave my job. But this is a volunteer army, and I volunteered. So I go willingly.”

“I’m so proud of him,” Nancy Dunphy said of her husband. “I also know he’s proud to serve his country.”

The Westbrook school department threw a going away party for Dunphy the week before he left. Dunphy will return to his position in Westbrook after a year of active duty. He will keep tabs on school computers while he’s gone with his laptop and cell phone.

U.S. Marine Capt. John Ginn is on his way to the Middle East on an amphibious assault ship, the U.S.S. Saipan. Ginn, a helicopter pilot stationed at New River, N.C., flies AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopters in support of combat troops on the ground and left Jan. 14.

“He seems to be doing very well,” said his father, Gregg Ginn of Cape Elizabeth. John has been training for this for several years. “He’s where John Ginn should be,” his father said.

John’s wife Jenn is well “under the circumstances,” Gregg said. “This is obviously one of those situations that nothing prepares you for.”

Gregg is also doing well. “Worrying wouldn’t help me very much,” he said. He remains concerned for his son’s safety. “He’s constantly on our minds and in our prayers,” Gregg said.

Gregg said he has received several messages from his son, and the mood aboard ship is one of readiness. “They’re prepared to do what’s necessary,” he said.

Navy Petty Officer Second Class Dylan S. Paige told his mother he is too. The son of Susan and Rick Paige of Windham, Paige is a crewmember of the aircraft carrier USS Truman. A Navy report said the carrier was in the Adriatic Sea last week. Sue hears from Dylan by e-mail and she told the American Journal Tuesday that he’s busy, “working 12 to 14 hours a day.”

She thought that he was tired and overworked, and he might have had a three-day leave. She said that her son is taking college courses aboard ship.

Susan said that Dylan is a fire control technician, working with computers in the missile system on the $4.5 billion ship. Although Susan said Dylan couldn’t talk about it, she said, “They’re prepared for war. They’re ready.”

“Of course I’m worried,” she said, but she added, “He feels safe.”

Dylan told his mother not to worry. But Susan, who had family in World War II and an ex-husband in Vietnam, added that she hated war. She thinks that President Bush wants it.

Susan and Richard saw the Truman in action last year when they went on an all-day cruise out of Norfolk, Va., the Truman’s homeport.

Kendra Curran of Windham, Dylan’s sister, said that her brother had reenlisted.

Dylan, who was married last spring, is serving aboard the Truman with his wife Jennifer’s stepfather. (See her letter on Page 8.)

The nuclear-powered Truman is armed with Sea Sparrow missiles, a Phalanx close-in weapons system and carries about 85 warplanes.

Jessi Matthews of Westbrook, the 19-year-old daughter of Carol and Richard Matthews, found out Monday she would be called up to active duty in the Army reserves.

Matthews, a member of the 934th Quartermaster Company, leaves Wednesday for a base in Connecticut.

“Of course, I’m nervous about it,” said Carol Matthews, who works at Fruiti’s Deli in downtown Westbrook. “But I’m trying to look at it as an adventure.”

Some local residents are actually in combat now, rather than just on the way to a possible fight. Cpl. Brendan Sweeney is in the 82nd Airborne Division and is now in Afghanistan. He stopped quickly in Kandahar, according to his father, Kevin Sweeney, and is now at what the military calls “a forward operating position.”

“We’re worried about him, of course,” Kevin said. Brendan does manage to call his wife fairly frequently, “even though he’s in the boonies,” Kevin said.

“We have no idea where he is,” but he expects that Brendan is up in the mountains. When Kevin heard from Brendan recently, “he seemed pretty good.”

Apparently Brendan claims to have “gained 100 pounds” with all his gear on, including an M4 rifle, a 9 mm pistol, a mortar tube, seven mortar rounds and hundreds of rounds of gun ammunition. He also wears body armor plates, which add still more weight.

“It’s a real war – they’re shooting,” Kevin said. He and his wife are doing well, though they are worried about their son. “Of course we miss the hell out of him,” Kevin said, his eyes starting to fill with tears.