Volume 8, Number 51 - March 12, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Big Piney soldier heading to Iraq
In just over a month, Wyoming will see its largest National Guard deployment since the Korean War.
Six Sublette County soldiers are among the 1,200 Wyomingites who will provide convoy protection in southern Iraq.
One of those soldiers is Big Piney resident Grant DeGraw
A 2007 Big Piney High School graduate, DeGraw is scheduled to deploy on April 20 – six days before his 20th birthday. From there, his unit will undergo two months of training in Texas followed by a year in Iraq.
“He’s so anxious,” DeGraw’s mother, Yvonne, said of her youngest son’s first deployment. “He wishes he was there.”
Grant’s enthusiasm is rooted in a long-term dream.
“Grant wanted to be in the military since he was 5,” Yvonne said, adding his desire is due in part to his father Chris who served in the Marines in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
After the Marines, Chris joined the National Guard and in 2006 he was sent to Iraq for an 18-month tour during an escalation of violence.
“Mortars went off all the time,” Yvonne said. “They were constantly getting shot at.”
Those months were hard on the family. Yvonne spent nights at home waiting impatiently for a call from Chris. When he was on a mission she waited days.
“I’d worry and cry and make myself physically ill,” Yvonne said.
It was during Chris’ deployment Grant told his mother he intended to join the National Guard. At the time Grant was 17 and he needed his mother’s signature to enlist. Yvonne refused.
She held off for two months until one day Grant came home from school and sat Yvonne down. He put his hand on her arm, looked her straight in the eye and said, “This is what I want to do.”
It was a six-year commitment.
Grant went to basic training in South Carolina and then to advanced infantry training in Maryland. During his training, Grant strived to follow his father’s footsteps as a gunner – the person who operates the gun turret atop a Humvee.
After returning to Big Piney, he worked with his father at White Mountain Drilling and spent one weekend a month serving with his National Guard unit.
By July, his unit will be processing incoming soldiers in northern Kuwait and providing security for convoys headed into Iraq.
And that bothers Yvonne; she struggles with Grant’s choice to be gunner.
“I don’t like it because it’s a dangerous position,” she said. “You’re just a big target and that’s my baby.”
After living through Chris’ deployment, Yvonne considers herself better prepared for Grant’s decision, but it’s still an emotional challenge.
“I’m in a bubble of denial right now,” she said. “I cried a lot when Chris was gone and I’m sure it’s going to be that way with Grant.”
Chris has a far different perspective. He was a gunner in northern Iraq along the same road Grant will work.
“I was a Platoon Sergeant and I know every bit of training he is going to go through,” he said. “I know how well he will be trained.”
But he has no illusions. While Yvonne likes to stress that Grant will be stationed in one of the safest parts of the theater, Chris sees the danger.
“Even on the best days it’s still a combat zone,” he said. “And you never know. You never know.”
Regardless of their different perspectives, both Chris and Yvonne have a tremendous amount of pride for Grant’s service.
“He watched me deploy,” Chris said. “He knows the danger involved. He knows the heartache involved and the still took on that commitment and challenge. He’s a patriot.”
That commitment, and Grant’s determination to fulfill his dreams, have led him down a path is neither safe nor easy. It’s an uncertain path wrought with dangers that few are willing to take.
“It’s different than at the beginning of 9/11,” Chris said, adding the impulsive rush to join the service has long since waned. “People are no longer angry. Now it comes down to what you’re made of and who you are.”
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