One year after war’s start leaves stories to tell

Darrell Maurina

It’s been a year since the war in Iraq began. While many servicemembers assigned to the initial assault have rotated back home, some are still deployed in Iraq, some have been sent there more recently and others have just recently returned.
Here are some of their stories.
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Julian Urioste, a senior airman assigned to Warner Robbins Air Force Base near Macon, Ga., got a foreign trip right after Thanksgiving, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force — a 90-day deployment to Iraq. That meant he missed spending Christmas and New Year’s Day in the United States, but his father said he understood the consequences of his decision to join the military directly out of high school.
“It was his choice,” said Mario Urioste, a former state representative and longtime school board member from Clovis.
“He made his choice even before he got out of high school that he would do his military service,” Urioste said. “I’m a parent, I wasn’t too happy about it.”
Urioste said his fears for his son escalated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“When he left there wasn’t a war going on,” Urioste said.
His son works in air transportation and doesn’t usually see duties related to combat.
“They load aircraft, inspect cargo, hazardous materials and rockets,” Urioste said. “Any time they ship something someone has to inspect and check it.”
Urioste said his son just recently returned from his 90-day deployment in Iraq and is considering what he will do when his six-year enlistment expires in about three more years.
“I have no idea if he will stay in,” Urioste said. “He signed up for six years so he’s got time to think it over.”
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Johnny Hornarto hasn’t always been close to his brother, but now that Spec. Nicolas Hornarto is in Baghdad working with the 501st Support Battalion of the 16th Engineers, he’s got a message for his brother.
“Our family misses him, all of us, myself included,” Johnny Hornarto said.
Hornarto said his brother decided to join the active-duty Army about four years ago, partly because his mother wanted him to be “set on the right path” and partly because he wanted to travel and see the world. Hornarto said his mother is now having second thoughts.
“He enjoys the military and likes what he does,” Hornarto said. “When you join, you have to take into consideration you could be involved in a war. As a mom, the safety of her son is an issue and she would not like him to do this.”
Hornarto said his brother has mostly been doing guard duty since arriving in Iraq in March 2003, and hasn’t seen much in the way of military action — but sometimes things change quickly.
“I hear sometimes it does get heavy with shells falling around them,” Hornarto said. “Hopefully he will come back late June or early July.”
Hornarto said he hasn’t spent much time discussing his brother’s deployment with those outside the immediate family.
“We do have friends who know, but there’s not much we can tell them,” Hornarto said. “When he calls, we immediately drop everything and call one another.”
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While many military families contacted were strongly supportive of the decision to go to war in Iraq, Gloria Garcia, aunt of Spec. David Rodriguez Robertson in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne division, said she wants the troops home — and the sooner, the better.
“I feel that things are not going to change in Iraq; those people are used to killing each other,” Garcia said. “The U.S. needs to let them kill each other and then we can go in and clear up the mess.”
Many soldiers train for years and never see combat, but Robertson has already been in two different combat zones.
“He got out of basic training and went right away to Afghanistan,” Garcia said. “He’s been in the military a year and maybe a couple of months. He joined the service to serve his country, he went and did one combat tour and we thought that was going to be it. Then they took him back in January and sent him to Iraq. This is his second tour.”
Garcia said she’s worried the sacrifices being made by her nephew and other soldiers are wasted efforts.
“I’m afraid once our forces step out it’ll be right back the way it was before,” Garcia said. “They’re not scared to die, they’re used to it.”
While President George Bush advocated the war in Iraq as a means of combating terrorism, Garcia said he should use a different method.
“They talk about terrorism, but America lets lots of foreigners in,” Garcia said. “They shouldn’t let foreigners in no matter what country it is. We need to take care of our own.”
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After 20 years in the Air Force and two assignments at Cannon Air Force Base, Master Sgt. Patrick F. Flanigen will soon retire.
But before he does, his wife and three children have to go through one more deployment — an assignment to Tallil Air Base in Iraq.
Back at Cannon, Flanigen is part of the munitions flight with the 27th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, responsible for working with ammunition. His wife Ronnie Clark Flanigen said her husband is doing similar work in Iraq and is trying as hard as possible to maintain close contact with his three teenage children.
“He left right after our daughter’s 16th birthday around Christmas; she really misses her daddy,” Flanigen said. “She made him cookies and sent them in the mail to Iraq. It took several weeks of course, but he shared them with everyone, and we even received e-mails from the other troops thanking her for the cookies.”
Flanigen said the Air Force does what it can to help deployed spouses, including providing e-mail access and support groups for deployed spouses. In her case, however, she said she chooses to rely on the support of Faith Christian Family Church, where many of the members are veterans or active duty servicemembers.
“Even though it is not officially through the Air Force, it’s still Air Force people helping,” Flanigen said. “The car broke, the battery went dead, and the filter on the icemaker got clogged up and a number of little maintenance things that normally when my husband is here would be done by him came up. (A family from church) were right here. I didn’t even know them yet, but we have really, really been blessed.”
Flanigen said she is in complete support of the Iraqi war.
“I believe the decision Bush made on going to war was for our best interests in the future,” Flanigen said. “If someone outside the United States was able to attack us so devastatingly through 9/11, I think that’s wrong and we need to stand up for ourselves, and that’s what our military is about. They are our guardians.”
Although she supports her husband’s role in Iraq, Flanigen said she’d rather have him with her.
“The Air Force has been absolutely wonderful to us, and we have no complaints,” Flanigen said. “It will be a wonderful homecoming when he comes home.”