Mom, Grandma Share Pride In Military Family

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Dawn Hess of Payson does not know why her three children were drawn to military service. But she is very proud of the choices they have made.

Michele, 23 is stationed at Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait in the Army's medical corps. Matthew, 21, a member of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, is at Fort Hood, Texas, his deployment orders in hand. Mark, 18, will join the U.S. Air Force in June following graduation from Barry Goldwater High School.

Hess' pride is shared by her mother, Cathie Roland, also of Payson. The two talked to the Roundup about Hess' children and even shared some of the letters Michele has sent from Kuwait.

Michele arrived in Kuwait Jan. 26, after a 23-hour flight from her base in Georgia. Her first letter to her mother is dated Jan. 30:

"Well I'm here. There is not much out here. ... It is kinda boring. As of right now I do not know what is going on because we cannot watch TV but hopefully it will just be a normal rotation. I doubt it ..."

She wrote again on Feb. 17:

"... No word yet on what is going on as far as where we are going or when either. All we are being told is be prepared to go north ... You civilians know more than we do because you get to watch TV ... I wish he (Matt) could deploy only because I know that is why he joined the Army ..."

Hess laughs relating that bit of the letter, "He's so mad. He said, ‘I've had all this training. I'm still here and she's over there. She's a mother and she should be home.'"

Things change quickly it seems -- Matt was scheduled to ship out today (Friday) or tomorrow, according to Hess.

Michele has a son, Dustin, who will soon be 5. Right now he is with his father's parents in Florida, but will soon be joining his grandmother.

Matt doesn't mind so much that his sister is in the Army. He was the one who encouraged her to enlist after her marriage ended. But while she has only been in 18 months, she has already had a tour of duty in Korea and now she is in Kuwait. Matt, on the other hand, will have served three years in June, but has not been out of the country yet.

Hess said her son, Matt, was ready to go into the military right out of high school.

Michele's road into military service was a little longer.

"Michele married right out of high school and had Dustin. When her marriage ended, she knew she had to do something for herself and her son. Matt was a very big influence. She decided to join the Army and get her medical training," Hess said.

She said there had been money set aside for all of them to go to college, so the lack of resources for school wasn't an issue.

"I give her credit. I didn't think she'd get through boot camp and now she's in the desert digging holes," Roland said.

Hess said boot camp was good for her daughter, it made her give up smoking. In high school she had been an athlete, a gymnast. Having a baby and smoking, she couldn't do the required four-mile run and she was determined to do it, so she gave up smoking.

Saturday was a bad day for Hess. When she heard about the explosion at Camp Pennsylvania, where her daughter is stationed, she said, "I freaked out. Every time a car came I thought it would be the military."

A very strong support system with her family and fiancé, Dan VanBuskirk, helped Hess get through that awful day. But it was that day she also decided she had to stop listening to round-the-clock news.

"I watch it early in the morning and the evening news. I have two kids here (her fiancé's) and Dan to take care of," Hess said.

Roland has also stopped watching some of the news shows, though she watches more than Hess does.

"When I watch it, I find myself thinking, ‘I'd give anything to know where Michele is'"..

Hess said, "You have to keep telling yourself there's nothing you can do about it. She's in God's hands."

"When the kids went in (to the Army), we never thought of them going into war. Isn't that foolish?" Roland said.

In a March 3 letter to her grandmother, Michele wrote:

"Mail is gold, and packages are like Christmas. ... We have to move out of Camp Pennsylvania to make room for a whole lot of soldiers coming in. There is Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, British Army, Australian Army. All kinds of soldiers here. It's kinda cool sometimes. But we all know the reason we are here and are not really scared, just getting a good mindset to get this done so we can come home and be with our families. Out here we are all we have. ... We are really roughing it. Sometimes I forget I'm female ... But I'm going to pamper myself when I get home. I want to be girly again. But right now, we do not know what else is going to happen ..."

Editor's note: To give some of Michele's fellow soldiers some of the "gold" she is getting from her family, we had hoped to encourage readers to send notes to Michele to pass on. But a recent notice from the Department of Defense is asking Americans to stop sending "blind box" mail to the military. It is a matter of safety and keeping the mail going to service men and women moving as efficiently as possible.

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