By IVY HERRON
While counting down the remaining hours of a second tour of duty, Spc. Tracee C. Burris, of Brazil, was looking forward to the airplane ride back to his duty base in Fort Wainwright, Ala., and the completion of his remaining two years in the U.S. Army.
Tracee's parents, Bruce and Jeanne Burris, and his sister, Sonni, were also counting down the minutes and making a few plans of their own.
"I had a plane ticket to Alaska, so I could be there for his homecoming. One of Tracee's friends, Jeff Dickison, was going with me," Jeanne said Friday afternoon. "Tracee didn't know we were coming. We wanted to surprise him. He will be 21 years old in four weeks."
Officials at the Pentagon changed all that.
Three days before stepping off the sandy ground of Iraq for the last time, members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team were informed they had to stay in the troubled country, because of resistance by insurgents creating "hot spots" of trouble.
"It's an indefinite extension," Jeanne said. "He only had three days left (before returning to his duty base.)"
A support group for the soldiers stationed in Alaska, called Alpha Families, is rallying together to learn more about the extended tour in Iraq. They keep in touch with families in the "lower 48 states" by e-mail and phone calls, sharing whatever information they learn.
A passage in an e-mail to the Burris family, and shared with worried families of soldiers reads: "Please remember that as hard as this is for us, we really need to support our soldiers as they're the ones having to stay in Iraq."
Speaking on behalf of her family, Jeanne wants to ask the public to pray not only for her son, but the National Guard personnel that recently left Brazil, the military personnel stationed around the world in harm's way and those stationed in the states waiting to relieve their tired brothers and sisters in arms.
"All Tracee ever wanted people to do was to pray hard for the military," she said. "I also want to ask people to pray for all of our soldiers' safe return."