Local soldiers head to Iraq
BY BRIAN STANLEY email@example.com January 5, 2011 6:56PM
Dennis McWherter, a Joliet police lieutenant, has returned home after serving a year in Iraq as a major in the National Guard. | sun-times media File
Updated: May 1, 2011 4:46AM
PEORIA — Dennis McWherter has been married for 23 years, his youngest child is 17 and he’s got enough experience in law enforcement to head the narcotics unit as a lieutenant with the Joliet Police Department.
Rigoberto Garcia is still in college, he and his girlfriend of two years have considered getting married in the next few years and he wants to work for a local fire department when he completes his paramedic training.
Despite different backgrounds, both Joliet men spent a lot of the last week doing the same thing — playing games with their families, mostly because they’ll soon start a year of service in Iraq with the Illinois National Guard 709th Area Support Medical Co.
Iraqi ‘quick care’
Under the command of Maj. McWherter, about 80 doctors, nurses and other personnel will provide health care for American and coalition forces in Iraq. The unit will also assist in evacuating injured soldiers.
“Essentially we’ll be running a ‘quick care’ at a forward operating base,” McWherter explained, “trying to get anyone we treat returned to duty within 72 hours.”
“You’ve got the best company commander in the (whole) guard and your leadership from him on down will get you through what you need to do,” Col. Michael Zerbonia told the soldiers during a deployment ceremony Tuesday in the ballroom of the Pere Marquette Hotel. “Major Mac,” he told McWherter, “bring ‘em home safe.”
McWherter was then presented with an Illinois state flag to fly over company headquarters.
This will be McWherter’s second deployment to Iraq in five years.
His wife, Julie, said they and their children — Sabrina, 22, Dennis, 18, and Peter, 17, — were “more practical” in their preparations for his yearlong absence this time.
“He took the car in for service and got everything redone and made sure Peter knew how to use the snowblower,” Julie McWherter said. Peter has also been assigned flag-raising duty at the house, while his older brother Dennis will be taking care of his father’s gold cross — “so he’ll always have a part of me with him,” McWherter explained — while away from home at the University of Illinois.
The family plans to keep in touch via cell phone, e-mail and the Internet during his tour of duty.
Last time McWherter was overseas, his daughter graduated high school and his younger son graduated eighth grade.
“I’m just glad Sabrina graduated college a few weeks ago before I had to leave again, and there aren’t any other milestones,” he said.
While the family tried to work in more special events before McWherter left last time, they now spent much more time at home.
“We went out to eat a lot, but had a lot of family game nights,” Julie McWherter said. “We did some board games and Dennis and the kids played video games. I didn’t … well, I played a little.”
Meanwhile Garcia’s loved ones showed no mercy to the sergeant.
“We’ve had three straight nights of Monopoly, and they didn’t let me (win). I was the first one out each time,” he said, laughing.
The soldiers of the 709th come from areas throughout the state, but Garcia is glad his commanding officer will “know where (he’s) from.”
The company will train at a base in Washington for a few weeks, and Garcia’s girlfriend, Beatriz Morales, plans to visit before he heads to the Middle East.
“I’m still in denial that he’s going,” she admitted. “But I am very proud of him … very much so.”