Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TOP STORY >> Colonel won’t be home for Christmas

Leader executive editor

President Obama said Friday all U.S. troops would leave Iraq at the end of the year.

That doesn’t mean the U.S. military presence there will end. Some advisers will remain to help with the transition.

Col. Kirk Lear, former vice commander at the 314th Airlift Wing here, is assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. But he won’t be coming home until July. He’ll be one of 160 U.S. advisers who will stay when the troops come home.

Lear serves as aide to top military officials at the embassy. His connection with the 314th Airlift Wing, which has some of the best C-130 trainers in the world, should benefit the Iraqi military.

His son, Trevor, 18, is an honors engineering student at Purdue University in Indiana. He was the valedictorian at North Pulaski High School last year.

He emailed us Saturday about his dad’s year-long assignment in Iraq.

By way of background, Trevor wrote, “Last year, I was stationed at LRAFB with my father, Colonel Kirk Lear, and family. This July, he deployed to Baghdad. After news surfaced yesterday that ALL troops were coming home for the holidays, my excitement ran wild. That is, until I called my mom to confirm that we would be together over Christmas.”

His mother, Susan, told Trevor that his dad will have to stay a while longer. She’s still living on Little Rock Air Force Base with her daughter, Reagan, who also attends North Pulaski.

“Out of 45,000 troops currently in Iraq, he will be one of 160 who remain come Christmas,” Trevor wrote to us.

According to the Associated Press, about 157 U.S. service personnel are expected to work out of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad under Army Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen.

“Like all families of soon-to-be deployed soldiers,” Trevor recalled, “the weeks leading up to his departure date were filled with emotion. I constantly found myself avoiding insignificant arguments and volunteering to pick him up, in his car, from work. It was all about taking advantage of what time I had with him, regardless of when and where. I wanted to savor every second I had with him.”

This was his dad’s first assignment in Iraq. He hadn’t been in a combat zone since Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 and the first Gulf War in 1991, which were before Trevor was born.

Col. Lear was assigned to LRAFB twice, the first time in 1994. “My son was six weeks old when we first moved here and my daughter was born here, too. We were very involved with the community and we absolutely loved it here,” he told the base newspaper two year ago, when he was the 314th vice commander.

The Lears have moved seven times during the colonel’s 25-year career. Some families have moved more often.

Col. Lear has also served at the Air Force Academy, Air Mobility Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and in Alaska and Japan.

“Over the course of my lifetime, my family has been extremely fortunate,” Trevor wrote us. “God has blessed us immensely, especially with my dad’s deployments, or rather lack thereof.

“Growing up, other than the many hours he put in to his units and the occasional TDY/late night during exercises, he was always home for dinner, involved in Boy Scouts with me, present at all my soccer games and cross-country meets, and he’s there for me whenever I needed it.

“In the end, we all share one overwhelming concern, whether or not our loved ones will return. We dread receiving the news that we will have to settle for that last hug we had, that last goodbye as tears streamed down our cheeks, or that last mental image of their face as we turned and walked away feeling abandoned. That’s one thing I’ve noticed recently: you never truly appreciate family as much as you should until you experience that emptiness that deployment brings.

His dad was scheduled to leave for Iraq on July 11, the colonel’s birthday, but he was told to wait. “That week I played catch with him every night and made the little things count. He left four days later,” Trevor recalled.

“There exists a feeling of absolute vulnerability that comes alive in those final days. Spouses may begin to worry about how their relationship will stand up to distance. Young sons and daughters, too young to understand the magnitude of such change, wonder where their mommy or daddy is going.

“My appreciation continues to grow for the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who have so valiantly fought for our freedom, as well as the loyal families who have endured more than imaginable,” Trevor wrote.

“Unfortunately, some soldiers haven’t returned,” he continued. “While I’m horrified by thoughts that my dad will be one of those men, I know that regardless, my dad, like many other fathers have, is serving his country in the most courageous way possible. And that makes me proud.”