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Friday, May 6, 2016

'We just want him home'

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Pfc. Jacob Kirby's family is praying that he'll be home for Easter. He was with them last Easter but missed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's because he was in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg, N.C. The first anniversary of American ground troops invading Iraq is Sat. Kirby has been there for nearly eight months.

The 2002 Northview graduate joined the Army right out of high school. After basic training, advanced Infantry training and airborne training he was qualified as a communicator or radioman.

His unit was deployed to Iraq last August. Parents, Bruce and Nora Kirby, said they were not allowed to identify his exact location. They added that due to the mobility required of his job, he's been to lots of places in the Mideast.

"We've been fortunate to hear from him," Nora said. "As a communicator he's been able to call us a couple times a month. That's the biggest blessing for us."

Feelings are strong both for and against the United States' pre-emptive war against Iraq. Nora said that her son is a very gentle person but he was very willing to go.

The proud American feels it was his job. It's what he was trained to do and he doesn't regret going.

"Jacob says that when we watch the news, we don't see the good things happening over there," Nora said. "We've taught Iraqis how to build homes, clean, trained them on various job skills. We're training these people on how to live a respectable life. They've never had that opportunity. They've always been told what to do and how to live."

Nora explained that the military knows where they are wanted and where they're not. Many of the towns are very happy to have the troops there.

Bruce Kirby feels that much of the reporting in the media is not correct.

"The numbers are not always accurate," Bruce said. "I don't think it's intentional. I just think that after the initial report, there's no follow up. Once it's reported its old news so they just move on."

While many of his activities are confidential, Kirby has shared some stories with his family about life in Iraq .

"It's dirty!" Nora said adamantly.

The wind blows constantly in Iraq. There's sand everywhere. It's hot in the day and cold, in the 30s, at night. Kirby is in an area with no heating source.

There are only two classes in Iraq, the very rich and the very poor. Most of Kirby's contact with the local people is restricted to a few villagers who work on the base. He loves children and it's very difficult for him not to be able to interact with them and help them. But it's too difficult to distinguish between friend and enemy.

Nora shared a story that Jacob had told them. One day he was on tower watch high above the town looking down and surveying the area. Kirby heard a commotion in the main street. When he focused his attention on the situation he observed an old man walking down the street with a cow.

Cows are quite rare in Iraq. It was scrawny and appeared malnourished. Near frenzy, the villagers excitedly crowded around. Suddenly the old man took out a knife and slit the cows throat. It made bawling sounds as it died.

The man butchered the cow right there in the middle of the street and sold pieces to the people. Being an animal lover, it was difficult for Kirby to watch but the people went crazy trying to buy the meat. The old man sold the entire cow in half an hour.

Kirby understood their excitement. Meat is scarce in Iraq. He has eaten camel. He said it's very dry and doesn't taste good but he's just thankful to have meat.

Kirby's parents and grandmother, Nancy Cox, recently discussed how the young man's military commitment has affected the whole family.

"I had a lot of down moments a couple months ago," Nora said. "I think I was listening to the news too much. I constantly feared that the Red Cross was going to be waiting for me when I got home.

"We're a very strong Christian family. I know he's in God's hands and he's being lifted up in prayer by the community, friends, family and our church. That's helped tremendously. Jacob is a Christian. In the first letter he wrote home, he asked us to send him his Bible. All of that helps."

But Kirby's grandmother said having a loved one in a war zone is emotional torture.

"As a grandmother, it's the most difficult time of my life," Cox said with a sad, distraught expression. "You're never at rest. Any time you hear a report of a death you just cringe!" Cox clinched her fists and scrunched her face in pain from the thought.

"I now appreciate what the parents and grandparents of soldiers in other wars went through. I never knew what it was like. You're constantly wondering, is he safe? It's always in your mind."

Bruce Kirby offered a dad's sentiments about his son being at war.

"It's a difficult transitional period," he said softly. "The transition of a child growing up. A few years ago we were taking care of him. Now he's taking care of us. While he was home, that transition was slow and not so noticeable. With him going into the military, it happened so quickly."

Nora is concerned how some of the things her son has seen will affect him later.

"He's seen his friends go down in a helicopter right in front of his eyes," she said with the concern evident in her voice. "That will affect him all of his life. As a parent that bothers me."

But Pfc. Kirby apparently feels the military intervention is valuable and worthwhile. He's told his family that he sees a difference in the Iraqi people. When he first arrived he saw chaos, erratic behavior, fear. But now, with the help supplied by the military troops, the people are calming. The troops see positive effects. They see hope.

Kirby's family is very anxious for his return home. They've been told his unit may leave Iraq within the next 10 days. It's quite possible that he could be home for Easter. Besides his parents and grandmother, Kirby's grandfather, Millard Cox; sister, Shandra, a Northview senior; brother, Eli, a seventh-grader at North Clay Middle School; and his girlfriend, Rebecca Moody, will all be happy when he's back.

"I'm very excited," Nora said. "I just want to see him and touch him and know he's OK. I fear something will happen to delay his return.

"We just want him home," his grandmother said. "We want him out of that place."

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