Mother worries as son deploys to Iraq
The family of Staff Sgt. James Hoffhines has mixed emotions about his upcoming deployment to Iraq.
On one side there is a long-standing family tradition of serving this country and the prospects for Hoffhines of an illustrious military career. On the other is the threat of serious injury or even death in a war that has cost the lives of more than 3,500 service men and women and injured thousands more.
While some of his family members may have some reservations about his deployment, Hoffhines, who will be completing his eighth year with the U.S. Air Force this August, is ready to go.
"I really don't have any feelings about it. In the end it's just a requirement of the job," he said.
The family's mixed feelings started when Hoffhines first wanted to join the military while he was in school. The Lawrence Free State High School senior was not 18 when he wanted to enlist, which meant he would have to get parental consent in order to sign up.
His father's side of the family had a long history of military service. But there wasn't much on his mother's side, so Gayle Hoffhines, James' mother, was not eager to sign a consent notice for her son.
"I kicked and screamed; I didn't want him to go," Gayle said. "Either I sign it and keep peace or I didn't sign it and there would be a wedge between us. I signed; I've prayed that he would never go to Iraq."
Unfortunately for Gayle, James will be deploying to Iraq by the end of the month.
James found out about his deployment at the beginning of the year when he learned his name had come up as a candidate for a position that had recently opened.
James, who currently is a network analyst at Fort Meade in Maryland, is not exactly sure what his title or duties will be when he arrives in Iraq, but he said he would be given more details as his deployment date draws near.
His job is actually one of the reasons why he chose the U.S. Air Force over any other branch of the military in which his family had served.
"With the Navy my father said it was hard on family life, "James said. "The Army didn't offer a guaranteed job. They didn't know what I would do where the Air Force basically said, 'here is the job that you want; we can guarantee that you will be able to do it; here are the bases you can go to.'
"It gave me a lot more prospects that the Army didn't."
While getting the news about his deployment may not have been something James was expecting, his family certainly wasn't.
James unexpectedly broke the news to his family while he was on speakerphone with his father, Vince, this March.
"Some of the things that he was saying ... it was all adding up and I asked when do you deploy to Iraq," Gayle said. "It was dead silent on the phone for a long time."
Before the departure, which originally was scheduled for July 1, but was bumped up to Monday, Gayle had invited all of the extended family to their house seven miles southwest of Tonganoxie to say goodbye and wish James well.
About 88 aunts, uncles, cousins and his grandparents from the area and from across the United States came to see James before his deployment.
"We all told him that we loved him and good luck and be safe," said Tonganoxie City Council member, Paula Crook, who also is James' aunt. "It takes a lot for the boys to go over there and want to protect their country."
Gayle hasn't decided whether she is for or against the war, but she said she supports the men and women serving in the country and she wants to support her son while he is gone.
James has told his family that his job would more than likely not put him near the frontline, but it is still little comfort to his mother.
"I'm not happy about it," Gayle said. "I want him to be safe and Iraq, to me, it's not safe."