Readiness Group, CareNet there to support families of Iraq troops
Christy Yebra tears up as she tells visitors how Andres, just 16 months old, twirls around with his hands in the air while his father, Juan, sings “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to him by phone from his military post in Baghdad.
“Every morning, he kisses his picture,” she said of the child. Andres is the couple’s third child and Juan’s fifth.
This is Juan “Tony” Yebra’s first deployment to a war zone.
He left Tucson on Feb. 24 with 18 other members of the Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing’s Security Forces Squadron for a six-month tour of duty in Iraq. The 162nd has had members deployed either to the war in Afghanistan or Iraq since 2001.
Yebra – one of about 1,000 full-time Air National Guardsmen in Tucson – is assigned to provide security at Iraq International Airport as part of the 447th Expeditionary Forces Squadron.
One of his sons and Yebra’s brother are also deployed to the region:
Son Juan II, 24, left Tucson on March 30 with the U.S. Army Reserve for a 15-month deployment in Kuwait.
The elder Juan’s brother – U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Yebra, also a Tucson native – is posted to Baghdad with the Fourth Infantry Division.
Each of the 162nd Wing’s Guard families has been matched, through the Guard’s Family Readiness Group, with a volunteer here who keeps in touch with them throughout the six-month mission and afterward.
Capt. Steve Weatherford, commander of the 162nd’s Security Forces Squadron, said the deployed are mostly civilian police and Border Patrol officers who represent “a good cross section of our community.”
Deployment to a war zone is stressful for families, said Mary Moisio, whose husband, Brig. Gen. Rick Moisio, commands the 162nd Fighter Wing.
Several days before the 19 Guard members left for Baghdad, family members and volunteers got together so they wouldn’t be strangers when the volunteers began to call them.
The volunteers let them know someone in “the Guard family” is there for them, Moisio said.
With regular contact, the hope is the families will be able to overcome embarrassment or pride and ask a volunteer for help when they need it.
Moisio matched volunteers with the families and called all the families herself before the Guard members left.
“I have an understanding of how you maintain a sense of normalcy in your day-to-day life” even though it is stressful, she said. Several of the Moisios’ family members have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001.
“The family is under stress all the time thinking about them being there and worrying about them,” Mary Moisio said.
“The unique thing about the Guard (here) is it is a training unit (for F-16 pilots). We don’t deploy whole squadrons of people,” she said. “People are sent over from every part of the wing – pilots, intel (intelligence), medical, security, civil engineers. They’ve been deployed throughout the war.
“When folks come back, we have a marriage counseling weekend,” Moisio said. They also work with parents of unmarried Guard members.
“We also have close contact with (families of) folks being seriously hurt – or killed – in Iraq.”
The Guard’s CareNet – chaplains, first sergeants and others – helps families through these challenges, she said.
Christy Yebra said she has learned to live with the fear.
“My husband is very good at what he does. I know he’s careful and takes care of himself,” she said.
“I live with that.”
Juan was a police officer at Pima Community College when he and Christy met in 1992.
He became a full-time Guard member four years ago. She joined the Air National Guard in 2001, “three days after 9/11,”, she said. The Douglas native is an events planner at PCC.
Like other Guard members, she trains one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Her specialty is civil engineering.
Christy hasn’t served in a war. Juan prepared her for life without him right after their marriage, she said.
“My husband taught me how to be independent. I’m very thankful for that.”
Because of his work as a police officer, he believed she needed to be able to “take the reins over and raise our kids” if something happened to him.
“I feel very blessed,” she said, that he did that for her.
Those skills are useful now.
In his absence, “I’m Mom and Dad right now,” Christy said.
Even though she was prepared for Juan’s deployment, life without him is “very hard,” she said. She misses his companionship; the older children miss the company of their father.
Juan not only left behind his own toddler; he also missed the birth of his first grandchild.
He called in every three hours from Baghdad, checking on oldest daughter Joanna’s labor.
Family members e-mailed him photographs of the baby 10 minutes after Henry emerged on April 3, said Joanna Dojaquez, 22.
While she was growing up with a police officer father, Joanna said, she got used to the idea of her dad facing danger on a daily basis.
“We had to deal with (the idea of) not having Dad around,” she said.
Like the other deployed families, Christy and Juan took care of important paperwork – wills, life insurance – before he left.
Family support and their many friends help them through the separation.
“It’s a big family,” Christy said. To stay busy, she plans “lots of projects around the house.”
Recently, Joanna and husband Henry Dojaquez, 23, a Border Patrol officer, moved “about a minute” from her father and stepmother.
Their proximity is a comfort to both families.
“We’re excited they’re going to grow up together,” Christy said of the two youngest children, Andres and Henry.
Plans for a big homecoming are already under way for Juan’s return. His favorite meal – steak, beans and tortillas – will be on the menu.
Shortly after Juan left, Christy bought replicas of his dog tag from a Web site for each member of the family. They will wear them until he is back in Tucson.
“It makes us feel closer.”
WAR AT HOME
For more on Tucsonans and Southern Arizonans are affected by the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, read War at Home.
The Air Guard mission
In addition to security duty, the Arizona Air Guard provides medical personnel, doctors, nurses and EMTs; F-16 fighter jet training in Tucson to NATO forces from dozens of countries; and civil engineering experts and troops who serve as “combat filler forces” and combat support to other military units.
To fulfill state obligations, it also provides emergency fire, flood and rescue operations. Guard members were among the firefighters who battled the wildfires on Mount Lemmon in 2002 and 2003
Help for Guard families
Air National Guard
162nd Fighter Wing
Family Readiness Group
The U.S. Department of Defense provides 24-hour access to free private counseling services for Guard and Reserve families at 888-755-9355.
• “Troop and Family Counseling for National Guard and Reserves”
• “Returning Home – Making Your Reunion a Good One”
• “The Grieving Child – Helping Children Cope with Loss”
• “Making Ends Meet – The Basics of Family Budgeting”
These brochures and others are free, available at the Air National Guard’s Family Readiness Group offices, west of Tucson International Airport, on Valencia Road.
This Tucson nonprofit helps families of deployed Air National Guard members with financial emergencies. To make a tax-deductible contribution:
Jimmy Jett Foundation
P.O. Box 23981
Tucson, AZ 85734-3981