Students share struggles

Zach Mills

Recently in McCormack Hall’s lobby, Clarksville senior Kristin Gott lounged on a sofa with a brown and black Adidas shoe box resting closely beside her.

She opened the box and carefully sorted through pictures of her husband, Gary Nolte, a soldier from the 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell.

A silver chain with Nolte’s dog tags on it hangs around Gott’s neck. Nolte’s wedding ring is on the same chain. Its inscription reads: ‘”I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

Owensboro sophomore Cassie Norris sat Indian-style on the floor not far from Gott. She read a letter from her boyfriend Wayne Holt, also a soldier from the 101st and one of Nolte’s friends.

Holt’s letter read: “I’ve been hearing CNN on the radio. It seems like we look like the bad guys to everyone. That sure as hell doesn’t help being in this Hell hole.”

Letters like Nolte’s and Holt’s serve several important roles. They comfort Gott and Norris while they await the return of their valiant soldiers and lovers. And the words in those letters express the need for people on the home front to support the soldiers fighting in Iraq.

Gott and Norris have heard of this need for support and have done something about it. The two friends have established the Soldiers Support Group at Western.

The group is committed simply to supporting the soldiers fighting in Iraq, as well as the friends and loved ones those soldiers had to leave behind.

The group meets every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in either room 230 or 310 in DUC. There have been five meetings since its creation. Usually no more than five members attend, Norris said.

Webster County senior Stephanie Laughary recently attended the support group for the first time.

“It was really good,” she said.

Laughary said during her first meeting, there were about twelve people in attendance. She also said there were two “peaceful” war protesters in attendance who expressed their thoughts about the war.

“It was extremely hurtful to the military families,” Laughary said about the experience. “Although we completely understand and respect (the protesters’) right to freedom of speech.”

While Laughary fully supports the right to freedom of speech, it can be difficult for her to hear some things, especially since her fianc?, Darren Pleskach, also a Fort Campbell soldier, is fighting in Iraq.

Recently Laughary saw a student on campus with a shirt that read: We support our troops when they shoot their officers.

“It was extremely hurtful and contradictory,” Laughary said.

Support

Although both Gott and Norris would like to see more people attending the support group, they are more focused on the purpose and motivation for establishing it.

Group members write letters and send care packages to soldiers to show their support.

“Whether someone’s opinion is pro-war or anti-war, there are guys that are there that will not get any letters,” Norris said. “We’re just writing random guys letters.”

Supporting those on the home front is a very important focus of the Soldiers Support Group. Norris said the first meeting consisted of attendees venting and complaining about their situation of missing loved ones. Norris described the group as a “relief.”

“We know there are other people on campus who know what we’re going through,” she said.

Gott also sees how the support group is beneficial to members.

“I feel we have a friendship,” Gott said. “You have that bond that you’re going through the same struggles. You meet different people with the same problems.”

Faith

Mark Baldauff, pastor of Forest Park Baptist Church, knows Gott personally, and he has counseled her about being married and having her husband overseas.

“The No. 1 thing I do for her is I pray with her and for her,” Baldauff said. “The reality is, the only way she can have peace within is if she receives it from God.”

Baldauff married Gott and Nolte. Before they took their vows, he counseled them about the possibility of Nolte going to war. And he sympathizes with the young couple.

“It definitely puts a strain on a relationship, but other things do that,” Baldauff said. “It’s a reality. Sometimes we can’t always be together.”

Hope

While the members of the support group at Western wait for their valiant heroes to return home to them, they will continue meeting. They will continue writing letters. They will continue hoping and praying that their loved ones will come safely home.

Nolte writes eloquently to Gott about his longing to return home.

“I wish I was there to keep you warm, but I’ve got a job to do,” he wrote March 5. “By doing what we do here, we are protecting the world for our children and our children’s children. If I die fighting to make this a better world, I’ll be happy, very happy. I hope you understand the way I feel. It means a lot to me.

“I’m not a hero no more than the next guy, but I’m a soldier.”

Reach Zach Mills at [email protected]