Family counts days until son's return - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Family counts days until son's return

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June 16, 2005

Albany-- It's been a month since the Georgia-based 48th Brigade deployed to the Middle East. And already, at least five soldiers in the brigade have been injured in attacks in Iraq, and a Brunswick man was killed in a vehicle crash in Kuwait.

3,500 members of the 48th Brigade deployed from Fort Stewart in May. Specialist Justin Smith of Parrott is among them. His parents, like many others, are nervously watching news reports, and praying for their son's safe return.

Smith always dreamed of being a soldier. "It goes back as far as I can remember. It was Army trucks, guns, anything to do with the military," says Step-father Tracy Hester.

But, his stepfather, and mother Wendy Hester, never expected a childhood fantasy would turn into their son's career. After finishing Terrell Academy, Justin received a military scholarship at North Georgia College and joined the National Guard.

In May, he left for war with the 48th Brigade. "I know that what he's doing is want he wants to do, so I'm not so scared," Wendy said. "He's very prepared, and that's all he wanted to do. I worry, of course, because I'm a mom. But, I do get to talk to him."

They call him by cell phone and email often. The energetic 20-year-old says Iraq really isn't that bad, just hot! "It's really hot, 115-degrees on a good day. They have sand storms. He says the food is great, and the Army treats him well," mom says.

But when news coverage turns from daily duties to deadly attacks, Wendy says her heart aches. "It really scares me a whole lot. What scares me worse is that they tell you that, but they don't tell you who it is. But if I can talk to Justin for two seconds on the phone, I know it's not him."

"We're in constantly contact with military people who inform us of the things that are happening," says Tracy.

Websites update families about attacks on the 48th Brigade, but not always before the media does. An uncertainty with no real cure, but prayer. "It's hard to worry about him that much because he enjoys exactly what he's doing. We just hope for the best, a wing and a prayer."

"Justin is giving them the ultimate sacrifice," said Wendy. "But it's a sacrifice for us as well, I'm giving them my son."

And Along side Justin, are many other sons and daughters, some from here in South Georgia. They're thousands of miles away, fighting, working to rebuild Iraq, and always hoping to come home soon.

Specialist Smith will spend at least a year in Iraq before coming home. They say he wants to finish college at North Georgia when he gets back.

The 48th Brigade is made up of soldiers from eight states, from Alabama to Wyoming.

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