Strong support group for military families | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Strong support group for military families

William Ferchland

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Gilbert and Kathy Kramer proudly display portraits of their twin daughters Diana, left, and Jenna, who are enlisted in the Air Force.

Peggy Thompson remembers the day her son Nick Aguilar told her he was almost certain he wanted to join the Marines.

“I get a little weepy when I talk about this,” Thompson said. “He said ‘I’m 99 percent sure’ and I asked ‘What was the 1 percent?’ And he pointed at me.”

For parents and siblings with family members in the military, one would expect low recruitment numbers, the slog and divisiveness of the Iraq war and unknown date of troop withdrawal to cause undue stress and possible divides in the household.

Yet that’s not the case.

Interviews with local families with members in the armed forces find a strong support network, pride and wanting the best for a son or daughter who decides serving in the military is a duty that must be fulfilled.

For Thompson, who liked that her son played goalie on his hockey team because of the amount of safety pads he wore, her son wanting to be a Marine filled her with questions. Nick suggested two recruiters stop by the house to talk about being a Marine.

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The conversation on the deck of Thompson’s Rocky Point Drive home lasted three hours. Afterward the recruiters took Nick to Sacramento for a physical.

“It answered a lot of my questions and it also made me realize that this is what my son wanted to do and that I needed to support him,” Thompson said.

Nick, a 2002 graduate of South Tahoe High School, heard about being a Marine while working on a U.S. Forest Service fire crew.

He thought it would help him achieve his goal of being a firefighter, his mom said. Nick left for boot camp in May 2004. He is scheduled to be deployed to Iraq in March.

A registered Democrat who doesn’t support the war, Thompson has a sticker on the back of her Toyota telling others she is the mother of a Marine. She has a Marine sweatshirt. When she stepped onto a military depot in San Diego for Nick’s graduation she was awestruck.

“You can’t help but feel proud and patriotic when you walk onto that base,” Thompson said.

Manny Aguilar, Nick’s father, supports President Bush and wishes South Lake Tahoe would do more to recognize its people serving in the military. He thinks Tahoe residents care more about rising gas prices.

And he tells his son he’s proud of him every week.

“These young men and women are giving their lives for this country and we wouldn’t be free without them,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Diana and Jenna Kramer, twin sisters who graduated from South Tahoe High School in 1999, are halfway through their six-year assignment with the Air Force.

Diana is an explosive ordnance disposal specialist. She has used her training at events like the Daytona 500 and the Republican National Convention. She has not been to Iraq yet but is scheduled to go for eight months starting in February, said her mother, Kathy, and stepfather, Gilbert.

Jenna is a load master. She’s been to 12 countries in six months; places like Iraq, Turkey, Kuwait and Spain.

Reached at Tahoe last week, Jenna said she hauls items from Girl Scout cookies to bubble wrap. Her first drop was air conditioners and bullet-proof glass for military vehicles, she said.

“The Army loved us for that one,” she said.

Gilbert Kramer served a stint of almost four years in the Air Force. After the sisters graduated high school, they were aimless, and their stepfather pitched to both of them to enlist in the Air Force.

“I tried to lead them to the trough to drink,” Gilbert Kramer said.

They did enlist, but it wasn’t right away. Kathy and Gilbert Kramer, who are also against the war, brim with pride when talking about the two young women. Jenna is even thinking of a career in the Air Force.

Like other parents, they cited the confidence and skills instilled by the military. On bowling trips, Jenna used to be nervous to ask for a lane reset or shoes, Kathy said.

Matt McGuffin wanted to serve as a Marine for years and enlisted in January, said his father, Rich McGuffin.

“I’m just proud of him,” McGuffin said. “We wanted to be a Marine ever since he was a kid, and I think with the situation in the world he felt a real need to serve to his country.”

So did Corey Martin, who graduated from South Tahoe High School in 2000, a year before Matt McGuffin.

As he attended California State University Long Beach and ran track and field – he earned a political science degree in May 2004 – military service was in the back of Martin’s mind. Now the second lieutenant is back in school training to be a Marine officer. His goal is to work in intelligence.

“I’m honored to have a child serving in the military,” said his mother, Cathy Martin.

When the topic turns to the anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son Army Spc. Casey Sheehan was killed in Iraq last year, the Tahoe parents believe she shouldn’t politicize her son’s death.

“I think she’s going overboard and I think her son would not want her to be doing this,” Thompson said. “I think her son would be embarrassed.”

McGuffin, who retired as a commander with the South Lake Tahoe Police Department last summer, said he’s compassionate to her loss but feels she’s “standing on her son’s grave.”

“I think it’s a little over the top,” Kathy Kramer said.

Parents with children being deployed to Iraq didn’t deny their nervousness. But they counter that death can strike anytime, anywhere.

“I know (during) my experience as a police officer there are certainly risks, calculated risks to serve,” McGuffin said. “I’m very proud of him. I think it’s courageous and noble.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com

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