Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2017

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Nevadans feel the effects of conflict

In the line of duty Four Nevada servicemen have been killed while serving in the war over the past year:

Her son is a member of the 777th Engineer Team Utilities Company, which is working construction at the Baghdad Airport. The 777th is set to return to Henderson this summer.

"I worry about the type of war that this has become," Dunn said. "There are suicide bombers and the soldiers and civilians don't know who they are. How do you protect yourself if you don't know where the threat is coming from?"

Former Nye County Sheriff Wade Lieseke understands that worry. He and his wife, Suze, realized what every parent of a military member feels when on March 23, 2003, 1st Lt. Frederick Pokorney Jr. was killed in Iraq. The Liesekes had taken Pokorney into their Tonopah home as their own from the time he was 16.

"A year has gone by and nearly 600 American soldiers have died and I still don't know why," Lieseke said. "Every day it's the same. I think about Fred when I get up and before I go to bed. Our emotions are as raw as they were the day he died.

"My heart goes out to those that still have loved ones in Iraq, because I know how afraid they are."

Pokorney was one of four Nevadans to be killed in the Middle East since the war began, and was the first Marine killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

A year after the war on Iraq started, many Nevadans still feel the personal effects of the conflict. More than 700 Nevada-based military members remain deployed in support of the war.

"The soldiers are just doing what the government has told them to do," Lieseke said. "They are over there fighting and dying, and it's not an issue of right or wrong for them it's an issue of doing their duty.

"I think people realize that and are supporting the soldiers."

Whether they were called upon to guard prisoners in Saddam Hussein's rotting torture chambers, unloading supplies off ships in Kuwait, building fortifications in Qatar or fighting in the streets of Baghdad, Nevada servicemen and women have found themselves on the front lines of the war.

Their loved ones find themselves holding down the home front and waiting anxiously.

Las Vegas resident Pamela Goodwill is among those praying for the safe return of a Nevada soldier. She can't wait for 2004 to end so that her son, Army Spc. Adam Powers, can return home.

"Every day is another day closer to him coming home," Goodwill said of her son, who was deployed with the Army's 1st Infantry to Iraq for a year beginning in February. "I think we should be in Iraq and that our soldiers are doing a lot of good, but the sad part is it looks like we're going to be there for years."

Some, like Nellis-based Senior Airman Andrea Martin, have been lucky enough to already have their loved ones back home. Martin's husband, Senior Airman Patrick Martin of the 763th Maintenance Squadron, deployed to Southwest Asia in January 2003 and returned to Las Vegas in May of that year.

"He missed our first wedding anniversary, and I was pretty upset about that at the time," said Andrea Martin, who is assigned to the 414th Combat Training Squadron. "Now I'm just glad that he's back and safe.

"There's no guarantee that he won't have to go back, and it will be hard if he does."

Las Vegas Army National Guard Spc. Michael Rowe spent seven months in Iraq beginning in May, and said more trips overseas are a certainty for soldiers in the coming years.

"We will always have a presence in Iraq," Rowe said. "I think that Korea is probably a good comparison because there is not going to be a quick fix in Iraq."

Rowe, a member of the Henderson-based 72nd Military Police Co., was assigned to guard Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, about 20 miles west of Baghdad, with about 100 other Nevada soldiers. The low thump of enemy mortar rounds being fired at the compound became a common sound during the nights at the prison.

The prison was the site of executions and torture under Hussein's regime, but while being run by the Nevada soldiers makeshift holding pens were named after Strip hotels as a reminder of home. Upon arriving at the 280-acre prison complex after a two-day drive through the desert from Kuwait, the 72nd spent another two days cleaning the feces-ridden rubble and trash that covered the compound so that it could be used to house prisoners.

The 72nd undoubtedly endured some of the worst conditions faced by any Nevada soldiers sent to the Middle East over the last year, Nevada National Guard adjutant general Maj. Gen. Giles Vanderhoof said.

"None of it is pretty, and no one has it easy over there, but they were right in the thick of it," Vanderhoof said. "To call their living conditions primitive would be an understatement."

Despite tough conditions, being away from family and the possibility of being killed, Vanderhoof said that the soldiers in the 72nd and the other Nevada Air and Army Guard units that have deployed performed admirably. He also noted that the high use of guard and reserve troops in Iraq could have repercussions as the war continues.

"I think we're going to be busy for a while, but it's important to remember that the guard and reserves are reserve forces," Vanderhoof said. "These people have jobs downtown and families, and if this were to continue indefinitely it might pose problems.

"You may see people not staying in as long as they otherwise would, and it's not because they are bad people. These are good people, but they may say that they've done more than their part and decide they want out."

Army Reserve Sgt. John Haag, a Las Vegas resident, spent about 75 days in Kuwait beginning in February 2003 with the Army's 257th Transportation Co., and agrees with Vanderhoof that the longer the war goes the greater the chances are that veteran guard and reserve soldiers will not return to the military.

"A lot of these people signed on for one weekend a month and two weeks a year, and the war is really hard on them and their families," Haag said. "Some of these soldiers leave and their babies are crawling and when they get back they're walking."

Currently there are 178,152 guard and reserve troops on active duty, including about 260 members of the 257th.

Sometimes Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Sgt. Jim Olschlager feels he is supporting more than his share of soldiers. His son, James Olschlager Jr., is an aircraft handler on an aircraft carrier, and was in the Persian Gulf when the war began.

Olschlager's daughter Laurie Suarez is in the Army and after she completes jungle warfare training at Fort Lewis, Wash., she could be sent to Iraq this summer. The newest addition to the family is Kenny Suarez, an Army military police officer who married Laurie in January before being deployed to Baghdad.

"You never really get use to them deploying all the time, but you learn to go with it," Sgt. Olschlager said. "Right now we are really concerned about Kenny because he is one of the guys going door-to-door keeping the peace in Baghdad."

Olschlager, a former member of the Air Force, said that many of his fellow troopers in the highway patrol wish that they could do more to help the war effort. In an effort to pay respect to the Nevada soldiers who are overseas, Olschlager sent a Nevada state flag to his son last summer.

Olschlager Jr. was then stationed on the USS Tarawa, an 820-foot mini-carrier, in the Persian Gulf.

The flag was flown over the Tarawa on April 17, 2003, marking the first time that a Nevada state flag has flown over a U.S. warship during a time of war since the USS Nevada served during World War II, according to the History Channel.

The flag will be displayed in the Las Vegas headquarters of the NHP.

"We can't all be there, and a lot of the troopers have kids that are over there," Olschlager said. " I'm hoping that the flag can serve as a little reminder that there are still people over there fighting."