Most Viewed Stories
Single mother withstands separation from sons while in Iraq
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jennifer L. Walker tried to explain to her sons that she needed to go to Iraq as part of her job. She told her 3-year-old, Jadyn Sanchez, that she was going to make him some money he could put in his piggybank.
Apparently, this struck a chord because even today, after Walker has returned from her deployment, Jadyn continues to ask whether his mother is "done paying for me yet?"
The 26-year-old single mother's time "paying for" Jadyn and 2-year-old Damien Sanchez was hard on her and her children. Prior to her deployment in August, Walker had never left her sons for more than a matter of hours.
Walker said she coped by talking to two other mothers who left children at home when they were deployed.
"That was our way of getting through the tough times," she said. "It was easy for us to enjoy each other's stories and that was a way to get through the obstacles."
Walker is an equipment manager in the 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron operating out of Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix. She grew up in Yuma and is a 1997 graduate of Yuma High School.
She was deployed to Baghdad Aug. 29, 2004, and returned Dec. 30.
"This is something I did for them," she said of her sons. "I hope my kids will appreciate it. I did this for my kids and my country. When it was tough, that's what I would think about. That I was doing this for the freedom of my children. That's what I would keep in mind."
Within a military camp near Baghdad International Airport, Walker worked as a liaison for an Air Force warehouse that stocked everything from weapons to vehicle parts to winter clothing for distribution to any member of the U.S. military.
Logistics in Iraq were much like those at Luke - except with far fewer resources. "We ordered parts right away when we got there that we never even received," Walker said.
When informed of a need, Walker would research products available and then place orders. Some equipment was purchased from local vendors while other things had to be ordered from the United States.
All of the items that were distributed remained Air Force property, especially the expensive assets like weapons. "We were giving out weapons like they were candy because we were always in need," Walker said.
While the camp was ringed with U.S. forces, there were still close calls. Walker recalled an attack on Sept. 12, 2004, that was especially harrowing.
"That would have been Sept. 11 over here," Walker said. "There was a mortar attack and one person took some shrapnel in the arm."
There were two other attacks on the camp while Walker was there, but no one was injured. Walker said she grew used to the sounds of explosions and could recall instances when mortars could be heard whizzing by her tent. She was armed and wore body armor every time she left the camp.
While she believes the war was needed, Walker said there is still a long way to go to achieve peace in Iraq.
"It's not controlled," she said. "There are still so many mishaps. You just don't know what's going to happen. You still have incidents on a daily basis in which people are being wounded or dying."
Walker was among a group that handed out food and clothes to Iraqi civilians on Christmas Day. She said that some Iraqis welcome the U.S. military presence, but many others do not.
"There are still a lot of people who don't want us there," she said. "There's still room for improvement."
Walker, who lives in Surprise, has been on leave since she returned from Iraq. She is scheduled to report to Luke today to resume work.
In addition to her everyday military duties, Walker is working to finish her college degree. Once she has her degree, she plans to apply to Officer Training School and would like to enter a medical field after becoming an officer.
Walker's sons spent half of her deployment with her parents, Rudy and Sally Rodriguez of Yuma, and half with their father.
At times, things were so tough that Walker actually dreaded calling home to speak to her sons. She knew it would mean the same questions about when she was coming home. And it would mean more tears when she wanted to keep her composure.
When she did come home, her sons were timid, unsure if this was still their mother who had left what seemed like so long ago. While that was difficult, Walker said it was good to see that her sons were moving forward.
"It was good to see that they were safe and moving right along," Walker said. "They're more independent now than when I left."
Jeffrey Gautreaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858.