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Military family waits, prays for son’s return

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By Camille McClanahan

A man dressed as an Afghan border police officer opened fire on NATO troops killing six Americans during a training mission on Nov. 29 and on Dec. 5, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up inside an eastern Afghan army base, killing two NATO service members and at least two civilians, according to the Associated Press.

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It’s news reports like these that cause the McComas family, of Williamstown, to flinch. Dwight, a veteran of the Vietnam era, and Marlene McComas are well acquainted with the sacrifices of military families. Marlene’s father was a prisoner of war during WWII, and in Dwight’s family, out of 17 boys, 15 were in some branch of military service, as well as one sister. Two served in Viet Nam, two in Korea, where was one killed, and the other spent 37 months in a prisoner of war camp.  Darrenn, Dwight and Marlene’s oldest son, has been in the Navy for 19 years and is a Chief Petty Officer in California. He has had four tours in the Persian Gulf, assigned to the flight deck of a carrier.

“We’re all military,” Dwight said.

Their oldest son, Darrell, is not in the military and has remained close to home, which they are grateful for. He is  the operations manager for Averitt Express at their Cincinnati hub.

However, their youngest son, Army Staff Sgt. Dirk McComas, a member of Easy Company, the 506th Infantry Regiment unit assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 101st Airborne Division, has been stationed in Afghanistan since August. He has been in the service for eight years and also served in Iraq.

“It’s hard,” Marlene said. “You worry about him and you just try not to let yourself think about all the bad things that could happen. I guess my worst fear is that someday, those guys are going to walk into my shop (Marlene’s Flowers) and I’ll be there alone. I couldn’t handle that. I don’t have to talk to him every day, but I really do like to know that somebody talked to him—that he’s either been on e-mail or Facebook or that he telephoned somebody. If somebody will just tell me that he’s still alive, I’m alright.”

While he is away, his wife Allie, and his 1-year-old son, Linkon, live with his parents. Unlike many service members who have no family support, Dirk’s wife, of four years, learned how to preserve complete meals in canning jars and for Thanksgiving, she sent him the works, canned turkey and dressing and his favorite, cushaw pie made in a canning jar, crust and all. She has also sent his other favorites, apple cinnamon bread and banana nut bread. Allie and Linkon came back to Grant County from Tennessee, after they found out Dirk would be going to Afghanistan. Her parents, Doug and Diane Markesbery live in Dry Ridge.

Having Allie and Linkon safe at home helps Dirk to concentrate on the job at hand.

“I have the peace of mind knowing she has all the help she needs with the baby as well as anything else that might come up,” Dirk said, by e-mail. “And it’s good for Linkon, that he gets to spend this time with his grandparents, because we don’t live close enough for him to see them all the time.”

“I write him a letter almost every night,” Allie said. “The first time he was in Iraq, his 1st Sergeant told me that paper mail is the biggest morale boost they can have. No matter how many Web cams you do, nothing takes the place of getting a letter at mail call. I don’t really have anything to say, but I just write and tell him things, like I would tell him at dinner.”

Although separated from her husband, she is a trooper and doesn’t complain.

“He was already in, when we got married,” Allie said. “He told me what I was getting into, but I had no idea what I was really getting into. You have to live it, to get it. But the military offers a lot of security, especially in this current economy. We get good healthcare and he has job security.”

Allie loves being surrounded by family, but despite the sacrifices, she is appreciative of the benefits of being part of the military.

“Where my family is my support group here, when you are in the military, you pretty much make family-friends everywhere you go,” Allie said. “With the Army, you can be as connected as you want to be. The FRG (Family Readiness Group) is set up for the families while they (service personell) are gone. If you’re involved, like they encourage you to be, you get briefed on all this stuff. I went to 10 briefings before Dirk left. They make it as easy as possible to get all this information. And they will never notify the next of kin by phone, someone always comes to you, to support you when you are hurting.”

Dirk’s family listens to news reports, which is often unnerving, but are comforted to hear from Dirk every two or three days. When there are casualties of war, there is a black-out of information, until families have been notified. However, recently, they were able to actually see Dirk on a Web cam, something the Army put in place for the holidays. Each service member was allowed at least 10 minutes, but the McComas’ time was stretched to 20 minutes.  

“It was really nice to look at him, and see him,” Marlene said. “Linkon was mesmerized.”

According to Allie, the most difficult thing about the separation, is what he is missing with Linkon, who is on the verge of taking his first independent steps.

“It takes a lot of dedication and patience and it is something that you have to really embrace,” Allie said. “You have to want to do this, or you’re not going to make it being apart for nine months, and come back to a functioning relationship. It’s not easy. It takes some sacrifice, but I think it’s worth it. It works for us. Everything in our life pretty much flows well, except the emotional part, I just miss him a lot. I don’t necessarily worry about him, because he is very well-trained and I have great confidence in his ability to do his job. He’s awesome at it.”
“However, (she pauses) “nobody sees an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). I’m concerned about his safety but, at the same time, he laughs. He tells me he’s smarter than they are.”

Regardless of  danger and difficult living conditions, Dirk, is a dedicated professional with an attitude of graditude.

“I like being in the military, it has offered me a lot of opportunities I would otherwise not had,” Dirk said. “I’ve gotten to live in different places and met all different kinds of people. It has its disadvantages as well, such as being away from my family at Christmas and all the other holidays. But you get use to that. When we get leave to come home, we kind of make that time like a holiday and we see our friends and family. It’s just how it is.”