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Soldiers in our thoughts for holidays

by Jack Evensizer
| December 19, 2010 8:00 PM

The holiday season is here. This joyous time of year is celebrated with friends and families with special meals, exchanging presents and counting down the minutes until the New Year is upon us. Some 170 North Idaho soldiers will be with us in our thoughts as they are engaged in war in a distant and ancient desert.

Idaho's 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team is once again deployed in harm's way, this time taking part in Operation New Dawn, a security mission in Iraq. Soldiers from Idaho, Oregon and Montana comprise a force of 2,700 who will celebrate the holidays with camaraderie only known to those who have served, leaving behind loved ones that endure the absence with angst and steadfast resolve.

Families at home will celebrate Thanksgiving with an empty chair at the table, with unopened presents under the tree and see the New Year as another marker in the countdown until their loved ones return. For some, this is not their first deployment. "Now I'm the one standing on the pier watching him get underway instead of me" says Jim Shubert, father of Christopher Shubert, a sergeant with the Montana National Guard. Jim is a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who served in Vietnam in 1966 to 1969, and is retired as Fire Chief of Potlatch Corp in St. Maries. His mother, Helen Hamel, 86, of Heritage Place in Coeur d'Alene, has seen both her son and grandson go to war. She knows the emptiness of the holidays better than most, and says "I'm going to be waiting for him when he gets back."

In early November while training at Camp Shelby, Miss., the troops were given a four-day pass to be with their families as they prepared to depart for Kuwait for the final phase of their training before moving into positions in Iraq. Idaho Governor Butch Otter was in attendance for the final sendoff, and The American Legion offered its support for families while the troops are deployed. Locally there is a lot of support including care packages, cards of thanks and the family assistance coordinator Cassandra Vig. Both the troops and their families are well supported. Captain Steve Keeton is the stay behind officer for casualty notification, a daunting task at best.

The 116th Cavalry (Snake River Regiment) was constituted in 1920 in the Idaho National Guard as the 1st Cavalry, and federally recognized in 1921 as the 116th Cavalry. Headquarted at Gowen Field, Boise, it has units throughout Oregon, Montana and Idaho, with Post Falls being the home of Alpha and Bravo Companies of the 145th Brigade Support Battalion, Headquarted in Lewiston. The 116th sent some 100 soldiers to Bosnia in 2002 to support the army's 25th "Lightning" division Headquarted at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The whole brigade deployed together in 2004 to 2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in and around the Northern city of Kirkuk. Of the current deployment, The Observer in La Grande, Ore., reports that "It's sad commentary that the war on terror grinds on and there's a need for the 116th to go back, but one thing is certain: these National Guard soldiers will do their duty, without compromise and without complaint. The 116th long ago proved itself an equal among combat units throughout the armed services."

In regret, Specialist Carrie French and Specialist Timothy Kiser were killed in action while deployed with the 116th in Iraq and will be remembered with honor by families and friends, especially by those that served with them.

Jack Evensizer is a Dalton Gardens resident.

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