Students, teachers bid soldiers farewell
Even as he prepared to head to Iraq, leaving his wife and children behind for a year, Col. Steve Boylan said the United States is over there "for the right reason."
"We've broken the cycle of violence," Boylan said.
It's important to attempt to enable Iraqis to be able to go about their daily lives, he said.
"Kids go to school, jobs will provide for families," Boylan said. "How far along the program will go, it's hard to say. There's a lot of variables and, as we say, the enemy gets to vote on how much progress happens."
Last Wednesday afternoon, Boylan spoke to students at Tonganoxie Middle School. He and his wife, Michelle, have three children, Courtney, 18, who attends the University of St. Mary; Brandon, a sophomore at Tonganoxie High School, and Paige, an eighth-grader at TMS.
On Friday afternoon another Tonganoxie serviceman, Pfc. Joe Peel, spoke at a second school assembly. Kathy Harrell, who teaches social studies at the middle school, arranged the assemblies.
Like Boylan, when Peel heads to Iraq this week he'll leave his family behind for at least a year. This includes his wife, Leanne, and their children, Torrie Evans, who is in the eighth-grade and J.D. Peel, a fifth-grader, both at TMS, and Haleigh Peel, a fourth-grader at Tonganoxie Elementary School.
Boylan will be assigned to the multinational force's headquarters in Baghdad. He is a public affairs officer and will be working directly for Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Peel, who is in the infantry, will be sent to Kuwait for two weeks before heading to Baghdad.
Boylan and Peel explained to the students what their jobs are, and they answered the students' questions -- some critical of the war in Iraq.
"I didn't expect the kinds of questions that I was asked," Boylan said later. "To me they were a lot of the same questions that the American public has been asking."
Peel said the questions didn't surprise him; he said he had heard similar questions from his own children.
Boylan, who is 44, has been in the military for 22 years. His children have grown up with their father leaving on assignments that took him away from home for months at a time. Boylan's wife, who was an Army nurse for 15 years, also is accustomed to military life.
But it's different for the Peel family. Joe and Leanne have been married 11 years, and it's just been in the past year and a half that the now 32-year-old Peel has been in the service.
Leanne's eyes welled with tears Friday as she talked about her husband's upcoming departure. Peel is part of the Big Red 1, the famed 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley.
"He's always wanted to be in the military," Leanne said of her husband. "I've always been able to talk him out of it, but he felt this was something he needed to do."
In the past, Peel had worked various jobs in the Tonganoxie area. He also served as a volunteer firefighter for Tonganoxie city and township fire departments.
Peel said he had a number of relatives who had served in the military -- his father and grandfather -- and an uncle who died in Vietnam.
"I just believe that I'm proud to serve," Peel said. "... I think it's something this generation should do in order to do their part."
And in turn, he noted the sacrifice his family would make while he was gone.
"It's hard to be away from them and it's hard for them when I'm away," Peel said.
He said it's comforting to know that, because he and Leanne are lifelong Tonganoxie residents, they both have extended family here to help out.
As Peel talked, his son, J.D., put his arms around his father's waist.
The red-haired boy expressed concern for his father's safety, saying quietly, "When he's in Iraq, I want him to be careful in Iraq."
And though Leanne has reservations about sending her husband to fight in a way, she said she felt better after getting to know some of the others in his unit. And she's planning to stay in close touch with her husband.
"We have a lot of care packages to send," Leanne said. "A lot of cookies to bake, and brownies."