Pride, prayer and patriots

Families discuss the anxiety, confidence they have for loved ones overseas

Valerie Pfifer and her daughter, 11-year-old Challyn Pfifer, sit on the couch and page through a scrapbook of pictures of their son and brother, Sean Keller.

The book is filled with pictures of Sean's travels as a United States Marine.

There are pictures of him in his fatigues posing on equipment with his fellow Marines, traveling through the back roads on an outdoor adventure in Australia, and with his shirt off hanging with his buddies in places like Japan and the Middle East.

Challyn runs to her room and grabs gifts her brother has sent her from his travels, including a robe and hat from Japan, and a kangaroo skin from Australia.

They laugh a lot, and cry a little, talking about the goofy antics of Sean and the stories he has shared with them.

"If there were ever auditions for someone to play Jim Carrey's son, he'd be the one," Challyn said of her brother.

The family tells stories of walking through airports with Sean when he was dressed in uniform and "grandmas" coming up to hug him and thank him for his service.

Valerie has a T-shirt that reads, "Mother of a Marine," and Challyn has a T-shirt that reads, "Sister of a Marine."

The family, including father, Ken, is proud, but scared.

They last saw Sean shortly before he was deployed Jan. 26 for Kuwait, in preparation for a possible strike on Iraq.

Shortly after arrival, Sean, who had lived in the mountains his entire life, wrote his mom and said he had arrived in hell.

"There's more sand then you can imagine," Valerie quoted her son. "It's so flat you can see the earth start to curve."

Keller is a squad leader with 15 "booters" under his command, and will likely be one of the soldiers on the ground if war erupts in Iraq.

But Valerie said her son is doing what he's always wanted.

"He's wanted to be a Marine since he was real tiny," Valerie said. "That was his dream."

She said his attitude runs in the family.

"I come from a family that's been in every war," she said. "I come from a patriotic home and I'm proud that he is standing up for our freedom. I'm confident in him and I hope the people around him are as good a soldier as he is."

But, she admits, she's a worried mother.

"When it's your baby they're sending over, it hurts," she said. "All you can do is pray and hope he comes home safe and sound."

She hopes the rest of the country supports her son in the way her family does.

"Regardless of what they think of the action, they have to support the troops because they're our kids," she said. "They have to support them."

Sean was just 17 when he signed up for the Marines, and the world was a different place when he enlisted. Sept. 11 had not occurred, there was no "War on Terror" and there was no war looming in Iraq.

Teary eyed, Valerie repeats what she told her son the day he was deployed, making reference to when she signed the papers for him to join the Marines when he was still a minor.

"When I signed the dotted line for you, we were at peace," said the loving mother, trying to hold back tears. "So keep your head down bud."

While the nation watches nightly to see what's going to unfold in Iraq, several families in Craig are paying particular attention.

These families, one might say, are super patriotic.

They have flags in front of their homes, and pictures of military men hanging on their walls.

These families get frustrated at just the mention of those protesting military action in the Middle East.

They wish people would just show support for the more than 200,000 soldiers who have been deployed overseas.

They want people to support those young soldiers, because those military pictures on their walls, and the military personnel in the Middle East, aren't just random people.

They're Matthew, Tyler, Sean, William and Tyrel -- their children.

When talking to these parents, common themes develop.

Each family is scared, and sick with anticipation of what's going to happen this week or the next week or the week after.

But most will say their child has dreamed of serving in the military since they were children.

They signed up to serve -- and if now is the time -- serve they will.

And their parents couldn't be more proud.

Cheryl Chase's 19-year-old son Matthew Frederickson, who serves in the

United States Navy, was deployed to the Persian Gulf March 5.

He had a seven-day leave before being deployed, time he spent in Craig with his family.

"He was ready," Chase said of her son's attitude. "He was a little nervous and scared not knowing what's going to happen but at the same time, he knows what his job is."

Chase said she believes her son might have found his calling in the military, but enjoys telling the story of how he found that calling.

"He was bored one day and decided to sign up," she said. "He wanted to do something for his future."

She said he went to the Air Force Office to sign up, but it was closed. So he went next door and signed up for the Navy.

Her son, who she said had never traveled anywhere until he joined the military, loves to talk about the places he's been and seen.

He's currently in Hawaii on his way to the Persian Gulf.

"He's been asking us what we want from Hawaii," she said.

While her son is confident about what could happen in the near future, Chase said it is more difficult for her to be as optimistic, but she tries.

"I have mixed feelings," she said. "Not knowing what the situation will be is a little scary. I don't know if I'm pro-war, but this is my country, George W. Bush is president and my son is over there doing what he believes he needs to be doing."

She is discouraged at the sentiments of some in the United States toward potential war.

"I get upset when I see the anti-war protesters," she said. "They're entitled to their opinions, but when you have a son over there it makes you angry."

She said she was caught a bit off guard when the Red Cross sent her forms to fill out in the case something were to happen to her son.

"That scared me a little," she said.

While she is forced to sit at home and watch as the events unfold, Chase said she has the support of friends in the community, and believes they support Matthew.

"All of the military personnel are in our prayers at church," she said.

"That's what they need most."

And she asked for the same from the rest of the community.

"I ask for their prayers," she said. "Not just for my son but for all of the officers."

In the meantime, she'll be waiting.

"He'll do OK," she said. "I want him to be safe. I want him to hurry home."

Craig native Tyrel Miles has been on standby with the Army at Fort Hood, Texas, for months waiting for deployment.

Four times they've been given orders for deployment, and four times those orders have been rescinded.

Tyrel's mother, Donna Miles, said she grew up an Air Force brat, and said she's used to the situation.

But even with her lifelong experience being in contact with the military, she said she's still on an emotional roller coaster with a son in the service.

"You go from being scared, then proud, and then you're worried again," she said.

Every once in awhile her feelings overtake her.

"I've been taught to keep a stiff upper lip," she said. "It's scares me every now and then and I have to spend time in my private office. The thought of your child being sent to a foreign country in harm's way is not a pleasant thought."

Nineteen-year-old Tyrel works as a mechanic in the military.

He was still relatively new to the service when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred, and was not eligible to serve overseas yet, his mother said.

"When I spoke to him after Sept. 11 he was devastated," she said. "It was a hard thing for him to deal with."

He was ready for action then, and still is, she said.

"He's ready to go," she said. "He's an action-oriented guy. The waiting is bothering him."

It's bothering mom, too, who can't even watch the news much of the time.

"I watch it one night and then I don't," she said. "Watching it makes me irritated. Why can't they just make a decision?"

The public outcry of those opposed to a war concerns her.

"I was a teenager during Vietnam," she said. "It was frustrating to see people taking it out personally on soldiers."

Thinking of what might occur gets burdensome, she said.

"It's scary and you worry, but you have to keep plugging away," she said.

She had a message for all citizens.

"Remember them as individual people," she said of the soldiers. "It's one person in a uniform and they will do what they can."

One of Miles' best friends as a boy and teenager was Tyler McWilliams, a 2001 MCHS graduate.

McWilliams is an Army reservist based at Fort Carson, anticipating deployment on April 6.

McWilliams' parents, Harry and Debbie McWilliams of Craig, refer to Miles as their second son, and are proud of the two young men who were always doing goofy stuff together as boys, now preparing to serve their country.

"They were always messing around," Debbie McWilliams says admiring a picture of the two from high school.

She says their son probably had an influence on Miles joining the military.

There is no doubt in Harry McWilliams' mind about whether his son is prepared for a war, and has a quick answer when asked about his son's feelings on a potential conflict.

"He's committed," he said. "He's happy to do whatever he has to."

He said his son knew exactly what he was getting into when he signed up.

"He signed up to serve and he's getting the chance," he said. "He's just hoping it's short and sweet."

Debbie McWilliams talked about the life Tyler had to leave behind because of potential deployment, including college at CNCC in Rangely, and a fiancee, Megan Nicodemus.

A date for the wedding has not been set because Tyler is not sure when he'll be back.

But Debbie said one thing was for certain when he returned.

"He said when he gets back he'll have bragging rights at the VFW," she said laughing.

Debbie said she watches the evening news through a mother's eyes.

"I'm always flipping on MSNBC to see if Bush said, 'Go for it,'" she said. "It's pretty nerve wracking."

Harry said politics take a back seat to the fact that his son could potentially be fighting in a war.

"We support our son and we support the president and administration," Harry said. "We may not like it but we're going to support him. War's no good one way or the other."

Unlike many of the local parents with children overseas and on the verge of deployment, one might say Joan Kleckler is an old pro at coping with a son at war.

Her son, William M. Schaefer, a Navy lieutenant and 1980 graduate of MCHS, has served in the Navy for more than 20 years.

He's been involved in four military actions, including service in Libya twice in 1986, Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

She said her son always wanted to be in the military, and she has accepted that.

"I'm always worrying," she said. "But he tells me, 'Mom, it's my job.'"

It's not always easy, she said.

"As a parent, you hold fast, be supportive and lean on your faith," she said.

It takes armies to protect and serve a country in times of conflict, and those armies need people like her son, and others like him, she said.

"We have to do what we have to do," she said. "We want our children and grandchildren to live in a free world without fear. Thank God we have these young men who want to do this."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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