Wednesday, September 03, 2003


Some won't understand why she longs to be with her unit.
It's 9:30 p.m. in Baghdad, and Cari Beetham's fellow soldiers are back in the bombed-out building and tents that they call home.

She's sitting on the patio of Uptown Espresso in San Luis Obispo, and the midmorning sun has just broken through the cloud cover.

Even the coffee she's drinking makes her feel guilty.

How can she be here when they're in so much danger?

Beetham, 37, of Atascadero, is a sergeant first class in the Army National Guard. She's mother to Brooke, 8, and Travis, 16. And she wants nothing so much as an order to report to Baghdad.

Beetham is off-duty, wearing tan capri pants and a fleece sweatshirt, her dark blonde hair spilling over her shoulders. She leans forward intensely and speaks with disarming openness.

She's the kind of person who's so humble, so sincere, that she can talk about honor and duty and patriotism and make you rediscover what those words meant before they became cheap cliches.

When most of the 649th Military Police Company was called to Iraq nine months ago, Beetham struggled with her anger at being told to stay behind as the rear detachment commander. But with her husband then deployed to Afghanistan with the National Guard Special Forces, it was a blessing to be with her kids.

Now things have changed. Her husband, Brian, a sheriff's deputy as a civilian, has returned. And one of her close friends in the company, Sgt. David Perry, has died.

This story also inadvertendly highlights something else interesting about the deployment:

About once a week, she gets a call from Capt. Kevin O. McKenzie, her commanding officer. He doesn't have access to an official phone line, so he pays an Iraqi man $5 a minute to use a satellite phone.

I'm still amazed at how little communications the troops in Iraq have with us back here. But here is an officer for whom it is part of his DUTY to call back to his unit...and he pays out of his pocket to do so.

And unfortunately, although this problem isn't unique to the National Guard and Reserve units....its another in a long list of shortcomings thrust upon those guys

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