Thursday, March 15, 2007

Reunion in Iraq: Father, son spend time together

By Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) Public Affairs

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — When deployed, most Soldiers spend almost a full year away from their families, communicating by e-mail and telephone except for two weeks of leave. Chief Warrant Officer Johnnie Upshur, the engineer technician for the Army’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) prepared for the same when he deployed to Camp Striker, Iraq, August of 2006.
But in January, his son, Airman 1st Class Jonathan Upshur deployed to Iraq as well. He is stationed at Sather Air Base right next door, where he serves as a services apprentice, emplacing force protection measures.
Johnnie, a native of Birds Nest, Va., did not know his son would be so close. In fact, Jonathan himself did not know where in Iraq he would be stationed until just a week before he arrived.
Jonathan, a native of Nassawadox, Va., was attending college, aiming for a degree in computer programming, when he decided to do something else while he got his degree. He chose to enlist in the Air Force.
“I wanted to set myself apart,” he said. “I didn’t want to just be an average college graduate; I wanted to do something honorable.”
Jonathan is still working towards his degree, coding in the computer language C++ when he isn’t on missions.
Johnnie, who is on his third deployment to Iraq, worries about his son like any father does.
“I don’t like that he’s here, but in a way I’m glad he is, so I can see him. And I’m glad I’m here to support him,” he said. “I’m pleased he’s nearby – but if I had my way, he wouldn’t be deployed.”
Jonathan has found the closeness of his father a boon during the difficulty of deployment.
“It makes the transition a lot easier for me,” he said. “Being able to visit, and having someone so close who understands the ins and outs of daily life in Iraq is very nice.”
Johnnie has just passed the 20-year mark in the Army, and was deployed in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm. Jonathan enlisted just 10 months ago, knowing he would be deployed.
“I volunteered to come over here,” he said. “But I had no idea my father was going to be right here.”
“I’m extremely proud of him, and of his commitment to his country,” Johnnie said. “I’m glad I’m here for him. I didn’t have anyone to teach or mentor me; my first deployment, I didn’t have anyone to talk to, except in letters with a two or three-week turnaround. And even now, I find I need to talk to him too, especially when I come off a mission, just to clear my head.”
Jonathan gets most Saturdays off work, and he makes the 10-minute drive to Camp Striker to visit his father.
“We try to play basketball or watch a movie, or just talk,” Johnnie said. Jonathan is the oldest of his five children.
“We share a lot of interests,” Jonathan said. “He’s like a father and a brother – we both like keeping up on sports, shopping and investing. We’re very close – and competitive.”
Jonathan said he has always looked up to his father.
“Growing up, my father deployed to Desert Storm; I looked up to him as my hero. I didn’t understand what price is really paid for being in the military and serving my country. That gives me even more respect for him, that he’s been doing this for 20 years.”
“I’m no hero,” Johnnie said. “I just want to be a good role model for (Jonathan) and my other kids and show them that they can do anything if they apply themselves.”
Jonathan’s siblings and mother worry, too.
“Everybody’s nervous, with everything they see in the news,” Johnnie said. “They don’t want us here, but they understand that we have a mission, and they support us one hundred percent.”
Johnnie and Jonathan are already planning to work together when they leave the military.
“Our long-term plan is to give back to the community,” Johnnie said. “We want to give what we didn’t have, growing up.”
Both are interested in real estate in addition to investing – and the common interest is a critical part of their plan.
“We want to get into real estate,” said Johnnie. “We’d like to give homes to people who can’t afford their own, and give people a better life than what we had … we’d like to build a recreation center for kids.”
The father and son plan to spend as much time as they can together, they said. Despite the unusual situation, it sounds like that plan is working.
“This is the most time we’ve been able to spend together in about five years,” Johnnie said. “It’s great.”

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