Archive for Thursday, July 14, 2005

Homefront stay short for GI mom

Burns returns to Iraq deployment after 15 days with Eudora family

July 14, 2005

Half a month home then half a world away.

To Stacy Burns, a member of the United States National Guard, 15 days of leave time seemed almost painfully short. Burns spent from June 27 to July 13 reconnecting with her family, back from Camp Anaconda near Balad, Iraq.

She's been used to the pain of the 15-day breaks mixed with the regimen of military life, but usually from the other side.

Her husband, John, was stationed in Saudi Arabia at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks while she was home with their three children, Cody, 16; Shawn, 10; and Shyannah, 7.

While back home in Eudora, she has spent her leave making up missed birthdays, holidays and coming to terms that her daughter really has grown so much.

"When you get here, you just want to hibernate almost with your family," Burns said.

Over the last year, she has been through the deserts of Kuwait, into the ruins of Baghdad and played a key role in the smooth operation of the United States armed forces.

The time home has given her a chance look back on where she's been and also to appreciate her family.

When she first got back things were simple.

"I hugged my kids and my husband and came home," Burns said. "I had a lot of plans, but you get busy."

The simplicity is nothing new to the family, which is so heavily involved in the military.

Stacy, John and his brother are all serving, or have served, in the armed forces.

The decision for Stacy to join and leave her civilian life came when John was overseas.
LIFE FOCUS

During the aftermath of Sept. 11, Burns had an affliction common to military spouses -- time.

"I found it harder being home than being out there," Burns said. "You don't know what's going on, and you have too much to think about."

She thought of her husband, her kids and ultimately what to do with her life.

Those thoughts were what eventually brought her to the National Guard in May 2002.

"My husband was in Saudi on 9-11, and I started because I wanted to do something with my life," Burns said. "I talked to him about it, and he was all for it."

She joined and went through basic training, then learned to be part of the Army's quartermaster system. She gained skills in maintaining equipment and learning the supply chains that make the forces run, in addition to the basic survival and combat skills instilled by the military.

For two years, she trained and worked her civilian job as a technician for the United States Property and Fiscal Office.

She got her notification of her deployment in August 2004 and her orders in September.

"I worried about my kids and my family," Burns said. "We had time to get things ready. It was busy toward the time of deployment."

As she prepared with the 74th Quartermaster Company, she had three weekends to spend with her family.

"The day you left was a tough one," Burns said.

KUWAIT OR BUST

"We hit Kuwait on Nov. 4," Burns said.

In Kuwait, they began intense desert training and spent time with a water purification unit from the Virgin Islands.

"It's an experience. They're very laid-back people," Burns said.

Apart from the cosmopolitan atmosphere, Kuwait was a different world.

"It was dusty and dirty," Burns said. "I don't want to see sand again."

They lived in tents, and had to shower in shower trailers. The toilets were portable, but on the whole, Burns said the toilets were cleaner than they were in America.

"People from Syria, Jordan and Turkey were working for the government delivering water and food," John said.

The training in Kuwait lasted about three weeks, Burns said. There they learned the survival skills they would eventually put to use in Camp Anaconda. Although they were a supply company, they still had to take part in live fire training in order to be certified to do their job.

"It's scary. They make sure that you can do it without hurting your buddies," Burns said.

When the training in Kuwait ended, they began a convoy across the desert.

"There were about 20 people we left behind," Burns said.

They eventually flew in to the camp, Burns said.

During the trip, the convoy made three stops and experienced the desert night.

"It was very cold at night as we slept on the cots," Burns said. "I had my entire uniform on and was in my sleeping bag."

John has similar memories of the cold in the desert.

"I was in Saudi, so I know what she's going through," John said.

As the convoy trundled across the desert, Burns drove the lead car, which meant she was the first to enter Baghdad.

WAR STORY

"Baghdad is just like you picture," Burns said. "It's got a lot of rubble, and it's ugly."

She drove through the ruined streets carefully. Her truck was full of supplies protected by a gunner. Despite the nerves she did see some lingering beauty.

"Some of it looked like a real city," Burns said.

One of the rougher portions of the trip came as the convoy needed gas. There were long lines stretching from the fuel depot.

"That was a little scary," Burns said.

The entire time she said she felt on edge.

"Your adrenaline hits you when you get through Baghdad," Burns said.

She was prepared for anything, and when something did happen she barely heard or felt it. The convoy had passed a bridge when an improvised explosive device, or IED, hit.

"In fact this one already went off so they just stuck in the curb and repatched it," Burns said.

The explosion didn't cause much damage to the convoy, Burns said. There was some minor vehicle damage and a driver broke his glasses, Burns said.

Stacy's position as the lead diver is a comparatively safe one, John said.

"If I had my druthers, I'd take the first vehicle," John said. "You never hit the front vehicle."

There were no more problems with IEDs as the convoy eventually left Baghdad, Burns said.

"We're very lucky," Burns said.

CAMP ANACONDA AND COMiNG HOME

Three days after Thanksgiving the convoy reached Camp Anaconda.

"It was bigger than what I expected. It's a pretty good-sized base," Burns said. "Compared to what you expect, it was a lot nicer than expected."

When they first arrived, they lived in tents again -- the females segregated from the males.

"The females had really good living conditions," Burns said.

They had more space than the men who lived 20 to a tent, cot-to-cot, Burns said.

Eventually they were moved into a trailer where they lived during the majority of the assignment.

"We found out that we were going to work in a Class IX Forward Redistribution Point," Burns said.

A forward redistribution point is located in a field that contains vital parts to keep the military going, including everything from generators to Humvees.

"It's just like a warehouse," Burns said.

Her husband realizes what her work means to the armed forces in general.

"She plays it down, but coming from my background I never gave much thought to how important that is," John said.

The largeness of the camp keeps Burns in relative safety, but it is still in the middle of a war zone. She can still hear opposition fire rumble in the distance.

"We get mortar rounds that come in every once in awhile, but they're bad shots," Burns said.

She spent the intervening months in Camp Anaconda, keeping up with American news by Internet hookups in the morale and recreational area. The camp even offered opportunities to enjoy some fast food franchises.

Amenities aside, Burns kept in contact with her family and suffered through the holidays.

"Christmas sucked," Burns said.

More months passed as Burns worked in the parts field, and eventually her leave time arrived.

HOME AGAIN, FOR A TIME

The time back home has been a multi-faceted experience for Burns. She has reunited with her family, but has also experienced the fate of a veteran home from a war that's not universally popular.

"You still get people that look down on you," Burns said. "I don't even want to go in Lawrence anymore. It's not the soldier's fault that this stuff is going on."

"That hasn't been the case in Eudora. "The people here have been very supportive," Burns said.

"It's kind of weird being here for two weeks and not doing what I usually do," Burns said.

Her kids have definitely enjoyed her time back.

"It's a little more organized," Cody joked.

It's been fun to have her back, Shyannah said.

"Most of the time, we've just been watching TV," Shyannah said.

The children have handled her time away well, Burns said.

Cody, the oldest, has experience coping with having only half of his parents available for stretches of time. He's noticed the changes that take place when one is abroad.

"It just seems like everything is a little more rushed, because dad has to take on both roles," Cody said. "It just a little more hectic, but we get through it."

When his mother left for Iraq, he felt a little more prepared having gone through the stretches when his father was in Saudi Arabia.

"It's a difference. It helps to have a little bit of experience with that to know what's going on and what you need to do, the different responsibilities you take on," Cody said.

His parent's service has inspired him to possibly think about joining the armed forces himself one day.

"I'd say the fact both my parents are in the Army have been a pretty big influence of what I wanted to do," Cody said. "I wouldn't have had quite the exposure in realizing the different things that you could do."

Although she's ready to be back for good, Burns is maintaining the focus in her life.

"The way I look at it, you've got to retire at something. You've got to do something with your life," Burns said. "As long as I can handle it, and my husband can handle it -- the stress of everything -- then I will stay there."

Burns left to resume her assignment Wednesday, and hopes to be home for good by Thanksgiving.

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