Guardsmen get a strong helping hand from the public
Public support for the war in Iraq has been waxing and waning ever since the U.S. launched its invasion in 2003.
Lately, it has been waning.
However, support for the well being of American soldiers and their families has remained high.
'We've got so much support I can't shake it out,' said Lt. Col. Robert Mouw, 82nd Brigade Deputy Commander of the Oregon Army National Guard, whose headquarters are at the armory in Lake Oswego.
'Help seems to come out of the woodwork,' said Capt. Eric Walstrom, who has already served two tours in Iraq.
Mouw remembers when things were quite different.
'I remember jogging while wearing a T-shirt that had Army on it,' Mouw said. 'People accosted me and called me bad names. Now there is so much respect for the National Guard.
'They are hardly weekend warriors anymore. They have certain skills that regular Army soldiers can't often duplicate - plumber, electrician, security, accounting and computer, building power grids. These skills come in handy over there. They make a difference.'
They certainly do. Just ask Brig. Gen. Charles Yriarte, commander of the 82nd Brigade.
'In my 37-year career, this is the most support I've ever seen for our troops,' Yriarte said. 'No matter where I go, I see someone thanking a soldier. To soldiers fighting for the freedom of this nation and this state, that really reinforces their morale.'
If you want to talk to Mouw or Walstrom about the folks who have helped members of their brigade, be prepared to sit a while. There have been so many of them, including:
n Wendy Offutt, whose brother is a lieutenant colonel serving in Afghanistan, is special events coordinator for Latus Harley Davidson in West Linn. 'You name it, she does it,' Mouw said. Offutt's many assistance efforts include a special memorial service on 9-11 and a motorcycle raffle for the Oregon National Guard Officers Association.
n Members of the Lake Oswego Police Department have been great Guard supporters. Mouw said that Officer Steve Grimm has offered to help 'whenever we need stuff.' Grimm dropped by one time to drop off a donation for the soldiers to buy personal body armor.
n Linda Christy of West Linn heads up the Coalition of Troop Support, a huge source of assistance for soldiers and their families.
n Jerri Ghiglieri has been a great booster of the brigade, heading up fundraisers and donating her aviation art. Mouw calls her help 'huge.'
n Brad Rakes, owner of Linn City Pub in West Linn, has been a big 82nd Brigade booster. 'Brad has worked to get the word out,' Mouw said. 'He's a good person to know.'
n A troop of Lake Oswego Girl Scouts showed up with a stack of boxes filled with cookies, which were mailed to soldiers' families.
n Bob Lamb, owner of Lamb's Thriftway, has 'bent over backwards to cater our meals on weekends,' according to Mouw.
n Lori Tilton, owner of a recreational gymnastics center, dropped off a big supply of water and cookies.
n Curt Kirkemo of Lake Oswego Rotary Club is working with Mouw on the brigade's family program.
n Plus, Doug Tessler of the Ram Restaurant and John Bannister of the Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition have both been extremely helpful.
There are all kinds of other things, too. Like people showing up to clean up graffiti on armory walls or spotting soldiers in local restaurants and paying their bills or auto repair establishments repairing tires and doing oil changes free of charge.
'They come up and say, 'Your lunch is already paid,'' Walstrom said. 'A lot of people want to remain anonymous. They just do it as a way of thanking us for our service.'
In a way, all of this giving resembles the final scene of the classic Christmas movie, 'It's A Wonderful Life,' in which the whole town pours in to bestow gifts on George Bailey.
In effect, Lake Oswego and West Linn have turned the 82nd into a brigade of George Baileys.
Whatever their politics, people have not lost sight of the sacrifices the men of the 82nd Brigade are making. Seventy-five percent of the Brigade members have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past four years. Walstrom has been 18 months away from his home in Tigard, serving in Iraq.
Currently, Mouw said there are 300 brigade members either serving in Iraq or Afghanistan or on their way there.
While help for the soldiers and their families has been generous and heartwarming, more is always needed. Persons wanting to assist soldiers and families of the 82nd Brigade can call:
n Lt. Col. Robert Mouw - 503- 557-5963.
n Major Ricardo Gloria, personnel officer of the 82nd Brigade - 503- 557-5911.
n Kari Appleton, coordinator of brigade family program - 503-932-1547 or 503-980-4973.
n Darcy Woodke, assistant coordinator of brigade family program - 541-686-0415.