Pfc. Josh Vanderzon of the Alaska National Guard checks baggage at the Kenai Airport on Friday. Vanderzon is one of 10 area soldiers who left for Fort Richardson on Friday to prepare for a yearlong deployment to Iraq.
Photo by John Hult
Chuck Garrison usually didn’t share meals with his family. Over the past few months, however, he made it a point to spend more time around the table with his father, Greg, sister, Jenny, and mother, Susan Stockton.
The whole family made it a point, really.
“We’re trying to have dinner together, which is something we didn’t do before,” Susan Stockton said last week. “We’re just trying to spend as much time with him as possible.”
The reason for the extra family time: Chuck is about to leave the country.
On Friday, Chuck joined nine other area National Guard members for a flight to Fort Richardson on the way to Fort Shelby, Miss. There, the Kenai-area troops will join 600 other Alaska guardsmen in three months of preparation for a yearlong deployment to Iraq.
Garrison, a Nikiski High School graduate who completed boot camp in St. Louis, Mo. this spring, counts some of the guardsmen on the Friday flight as more than just fellow soldiers.
Garrison, Aaron Byrd, Nathan Yoncher and Josh Vanderzon have been close friends for more than 10 years.
The guardsmen declined to be interviewed at length for this story, citing the difficulty of the deployment on their families and themselves.
The guardsmen’s families are tight, as well. As far as Vanderzon’s father, Dan Ward, is concerned, all of them are like family. In addition to spending time with their own children, the families of the North Road soldiers have spent more time with each other recently, at barbecues, on the phone and at other family-style get-togethers.
Ward said his wife, Nancy, has been part of an effort to coordinate the care package-sending plans to take place during the troops’ deployment. The built-in support system of the close-knit group helps in terms of support, Ward said, but the fact that so many loved ones are departing at once is a double-edged sword.
“It’s a big bunch of your friends who are having people going to a dangerous place all at once,” Ward said. “There are a lot of worried mothers out there.”
At least one of those mothers is quick to point out, though, that pride in her son’s achievement and confidence in his abilities helps hush worried thoughts.
“I do worry about him, but I have faith that he’ll be able to do his job,” Stockton said.
Stockton’s son, Chuck, was part of the Young Marines program as a teen, and she said his decision to join the National Guard despite the near-certain deployment to an active war zone shows his character.
“It takes a lot of guts to volunteer nowadays,” she said.
Ward, too, said his son (Josh Vanderzon) has always been military-minded.
“I think he decided a long time ago, before he was in high school, that he wanted to be in the military,” he said. “He’s just always been the type of person who looks out for other people.”
Stockton said the deployment has been hard on the family, especially Chuck’s sister, Jenny, as Chuck will now miss her July wedding. Stockton explained that Jenny’s fiance, David Nussbaum, is a U.S. Marine himself, so Jenny’s tears over the news came with a measure of understanding.
“She understands, she just wishes they could have delayed it a month,” Stockton said.
Vanderzon’s brothers Justin, Timothy and Christopher all younger, all within a five-year age range with Josh played it a little tougher, Ward said last week.
“They’re beating up on each other, but at the same time, they’re all worried about him,” he said. “They just try not to let it show.”
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