Families of local Guard unit coping

September 21, 2003|GARY MOYERS

Treina Miller's Valentine's Day present this year was a good-bye kiss from her husband, Dalton. Sgt. Wendell "Dalton" Miller is a member of the 217th Quartermaster Corps, Kentucky National Guard, and his unit deployed from Danville to Fort Campbell Feb. 14 prior to joining Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The 16 members of the Danville Guard unit split into two groups prior to their Iraqi deployment, and now face the prospect of one year overseas before returning home. One group deployed in April, while the other left in May. Both are still in Iraq.

"It has been tough on the families, especially the children," Treina Miller said. "When they see news reports about other soldiers coming home they ask questions, but they've figured out their dad has to wait his turn. They say, 'Other soldiers got there first, so they get to come home first.'"

Treina Miller has been through this before, though she wasn't married to Dalton at the time.


"He was gone for nine months during Operation Desert Storm in 1990, but that was before we got married," said the assistant at the Danville Chamber of Commerce. "I got a taste of it then, I guess."

The 217th specializes in water purification, a highly-prized skill in shortage-laden Iraq.

"They have a crucial mission in supplying potable water to coalition forces and the people of Iraq," said Lt. Col. Phillip Miller, public affairs officer for the Kentucky National Guard and no relation to Dalton and Treina Miller. "There have been serious shortages of water there, and this mission is vital."

Defense Department announces new deployment policy

Treina Miller and the families of the 217th soldiers have been harboring hopes they would return home soon, but those hopes received a blow last week when the Department of Defense announced a new policy governing overseas deployment by Guardsmen and Reservists.

"The Department of Defense recently announced that Army National Guard or Reserve units in theater will serve one year in the theater from the time of their initial deployment," said Lt. Col. Miller. "Therefore, we do anticipate a number of the 217th will actually serve 12 months in theater unless relieved sooner, which is a possibility, of course."

In the meantime, Treina Miller and the other families are coping with home life minus a key person.

"You plan for the worst and hope something better happens," she said. "We plan for him to be home in May, 2004, but we hope he could be home sooner. A private company has contracted to do the water work for the army beginning in November, and they're there learning from our guys right now. You never know; maybe they'll get to come home sooner."

Treina and Dalton Miller have been married for 12 years and have a son, six-year-old Isaiah. They also care for their great-niece, seven-year-old Aisha, and a nephew, four-year-old Tray.

"Normally he takes the kids to school on his way to work in Stanford," said Treina Miller, whose husband is a social worker in Lincoln County during his "normal" life. "Now, I do it, and I get to my job exactly at 8 a.m. If there's traffic or something, I'm in a world of hurt."

The way they cope, she said, is by staying busy and keeping in close contact with the other families of Guardsmen.

"We have a lot of family and friends who have been very supportive and who help with everything," she said. "The people at the chamber have been great to me during this. We try to stay busy, but weekends are the worst for us. My brother took everybody fishing last weekend, and that kind of thing really helps, especially the children. This Sunday we're going bowling."

Treina Miller is the leader of a family support group for the 217th, and she said that occupies a lot of her time.

"I keep a contact list of agencies and people to handle problems for the families of the unit members, because there's always something," she said. "If I can't help them with their problem, I guide them to someone else. They have questions about insurance, stuff like that. We are a very close group, especially now."

They also try to support their family members in Iraq.

"We e-mail frequently, once a day if everything works correctly, and we do get to talk on the phone occasionally," she said. "The satellite phones are different; sometimes you can say two or three things and hear yourself talking before you get an answer back from the other side. The phones depend on availability and whether or not there's a lot of traffic on the lines."

Family members try to keep a lifeline from home to Iraq through packages, as well, even though there is no guaranteed delivery schedule.

"We send a lot of cards and packages; we sent three packages a couple of weeks ago," she said. "You never know with the mail there how long it will take to get them. Dalton's mail was messed up when he first got there, and he didn't get anything from us for a long time, then it all came at once."

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