Local Navy Reservist To Spend 2004 In Kuwait

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Payson resident Candace Conte received a different kind of gift this holiday season: word that her Navy reservist battalion would ship off to Kuwait just three days after New Year's.

The 44-year-old Conte will join nearly 650 other sailors from across the nation in the Middle East on Sunday.

"I wasn't happy about it, but it's my job," Conte said. "That's what being a Navy reservist is all about."

On Dec. 21, 2003, Navy officials announced the mobilization of its forces to replace units as part of a "force rotation plan," U.S. Naval Reserve Cmdr. Jack Hanzlick said.

The plan will relieve armed forces currently in the Middle East by rotating them out and replacing them with naval personnel, including Conte.

Conte's Navy Supply Support Battalion, which includes sailors from Arizona, California and Texas, provides fueling operations, mobile mail and freight support and personnel services, Hanzlick said.

Conte, who works at Payson Regional Medical Center as a medical technologist, said she will help with medical support upon arriving in Kuwait.

"I'll be taking care of minor injuries," Conte said. "Anything severe, of course, we'll have to ship out."

Conte said she doesn't know exactly how long she'll be serving in the 9-month-old war, but she said her orders say one to two years.

"The hardest thing is leaving the family," she said.

But her husband, Vince, 45, knows what it's like to ship off to a war zone and leave his loved ones at home.

As an Army reservist, Vince left for Bosnia in January 1996 where he served for nine months.

"It makes me a little anxious, but I'm proud of her," Vince said. "It's definitely different. For many years, the military trained me to go but they never trained me to stay home."

Though she'll soon enter a war zone, Conte said it's harder for the person staying at home than the person going overseas.

"It was horrible," Conte said of her experience waiting for her husband. "It's just harder for the person staying behind."

As a reservist, Conte is continuing her more than 20-year stint in the military.

A Los Angeles-area native, Conte said she spent four years in active duty with the Army before joining the Navy reserves and attending Pacific Lutheran University in Washington. In 1994 she moved to Payson, where she made a home with her husband and began working at Payson Regional Medical Center.

Though the laboratory where Conte works filled a position in her absence, laboratory director Janet O'Donnell said Conte will be able to return to work when she comes home.

"We always knew if anything came up she would be called into active duty," O'Donnell said. "I wasn't surprised, and we wish she wouldn't go from a professional point of view, but from our nation's point of view, we wish her well."

Conte said this holiday season, her husband bought her things he knows she'll need upon going overseas -- things she can fit in a 70-pound duffel bag.

"He bought me pajamas, a digital camera, things I'll need," she said.

"This came as a surprise; two years ago when 9/11 happened, I thought for sure, and a little last year, but this year I wasn't expecting it," Conte said. "At least it was nice they let us stay home for the holidays."

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