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Archives: Dec. 2008


Healing and helping, hand in hand

A preteen dressed as a rat tried to save Christmas from a nefarious elf named Knuckles and the Abominable Snowman. Standing beside her was a talking can of yellow Play-Doh. Sitting in the seats, waiting for their cue, were the 12 reindeer.

And five rows from the stage sat Armando Mejia, beaming a wide smile like a proud parent.

He nodded when the dialogue went smoothly and giggled at the jokes. And after it ended and all the characters took a bow, dozens of the kids mobbed Mejia and covered him with hugs.

The 31-year-old father of three clearly relished watching the Christmas play last week at an auditorium at Fort Lewis’ Madigan Army Medical Center. The Spanaway resident is the military outreach director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.

Mejia’s job has become a bit of salvation for the former Fort Lewis soldier who nearly died four years ago when a roadside bomb exploded under his Humvee in Iraq. He struggled with a grueling physical recovery and a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Today, he helps coordinate programs for the hundreds of children in the area – from as far west as Belfair and Bremerton and eastward to Spanaway and Graham – whose parents serve in the armed forces.

"Working with these kids," he said, "has helped turn everything around for me."

Mejia grew up poor in Los Angeles, the oldest of five children. He was in high school when his father died; his mother eked out a living making food and selling it to neighbors.

He started working two janitorial-type jobs – at an upholstery shop and a Mexican restaurant – to help his family. He enlisted in the Army less than a month after graduating from high school in 1996.

"We were low-income – food stamps, welfare, one-bedroom apartment," he said. "I would sleep in the living room. And you never forget where you come from."

Read more »


WADS’ territory expands

My story on the Western Air Defense Sector came out today, but for some reason the map showing its territorial expansion was omitted from the print edition. If you’re curious, here’s how much extra ground the Air National Guardsmen at McChord Air Force Base have to monitor:


A week to remember deployed Guardsmen

Stories about Washington National Guardsmen are popping up in newspapers across the state this week. (Our story about the Lineberry family, an early edition of which is posted below, will run tomorrow.)

Here’s a list of a few of the stories from this week. If I come across more, I’ll add ‘em.

Commander: “Christmas is just another day” in Iraq (Seattle Times)

War-bound single mom reaches out to troops, and gets help herself (Seattle P-I)

A bittersweet Christmas for 81st Brigade soldier (Yakima Herald-Republic)

Melancholy Christmas for soldier’s family (Yakima Herald-Republic)


Christmastime is toughest for families of 81st Brigade

A note to Santa Claus sits in the Christmas tree at the Lineberry home in Gig Harbor. The family isn’t home this year, it reads, and it asks St. Nick to deliver the presents to Bellingham.

Jeanette Lineberry wrote the letter earlier this week at the urging of her 4-year-old daughter, Anna, who worried so much that Santa would drop off the gifts in their usual location that she asked her mother if they could take their Christmas tree with them to their grandparents’ home.

"It made her feel better," Jeanette said this week. "She’s not really used to being elsewhere for the holidays."

But Christmas at home just wouldn’t have felt the same for Anna and her 2-year-old sister, Emily. Their father, Maj. Doug Lineberry, is deployed alongside 2,400 Washington National Guardsmen with the 81st Brigade Combat Team in Iraq.

Doug, a 37-year-old lawyer whose firm has branches in Tacoma and Poulsbo, is serving in Ramadi as the brigade’s judge advocate.

The brigade’s yearlong deployment began in August, but Jeanette said December has been the toughest: Doug has missed Christmas, his wife’s birthday this week and Anna’s birthday earlier this month.

But Jeanette said her situation can’t compare with the difficulty her husband and other deployed service members face.

"Even though he’s not with us this time, I actually feel like the lucky one," she said. "I’m surrounded by friends and family. For him, it’s much harder to be away from home."

Read more »


Track Santa across the sky

The North American Aerospace Defense Command is once again tracking Santa Claus as he makes his way from the North Pole to houses of little boys and girls everywhere.

So if you’re worried if his sleigh can successfully lift off the ground – there are more than 6.7 billion people in the world these days, and that’s a lot of gifts – check out the Web site. The tracking goes live at 3 a.m. Pacific time.

NORAD’s “Santa Cams” will send along images, and Google will provide tracking on its Google

Read more »


Anti-drowning program expands

A program started at Fort Lewis designed to prevent soldiers from drowning when their vehicles roll over into rivers or canals is being expanded.

The Shallow Water Egress Trainers, or SWETs, was started about four years ago at Fort Lewis. Now, according to an Army press release, it’s being expanded to installations in Hawaii, Georgia, North Carolina, Kansas and Germany.

Eight other posts will receive SWET units next month.

A soldier is strapped into a stainless steel frame and dropped into a pool of about four feet of water. The idea is to train the soldier to relax, get his or her bearings and then calmly leave the vehicle.

Click below to read the full press release:

Read more »


LA Times catches up with Snowball Express families

Want to know how the Snowball Express families are faring in southern California?

The Los Angeles Times has a story from the event. Make sure to click on the link for the photo gallery, too.

(For those who don’t remember, the Snowball Express is a nonprofit that sends the widows and children of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland and Universal Studios in southern California. A charter from Sea-Tac Airport left last week.)