View Full Version : From homefront to front lines

09-07-07, 08:25 AM
From homefront to front lines
By Stacy Trevenon--[ stacy@hmbreview.com ]
Half Moon Bay Review and Pescadero Pebble, CA

Debbie Gehret remembers the day she and her son, Kyle, sat before a counselor on Career Day at Half Moon Bay High. The counselor asked the teen what sort of work he was considering. Kyle looked straight back and said he was joining the Marines.

The counselor asked the young man if he was sure.

"Kyle and I just looked at each other like, 'What are you talking about?'" said Debbie Gehret. "And he said, 'Yeah.'"

Later, other parents asked why she didn't talk him out of it. But he'd been sure since sixth grade.

His mother and family, guided by faith and trusting in Marine training, never second-guessed that.

Not even during the last seven months when he was in Iraq. It was infuriating, said dad Bob Gehret, when a customer at work said people only join the military because they're not smart enough for anything else. It terrified the parents and siblings Kaitlin, 17, and Jacob, 9, when Kyle told them in 15-minute calls home how his Humvee plunged off a bridge and overturned, or what it was like to be fired on by snipers.

"He could write a book about his near-misses," said his mother. "It was just seven months of leaving him in God's hands."

Gehret, now 21, is satisfied with his chosen path. "There were always bad times, but at the end of the day, I'm glad (I went)," he said by phone from post-combat "decompression" at Twentynine Palms, Calif. "The guys I work with always think we're the best. Honestly, I think we are. I don't want to serve with anyone else."

On Aug. 22, the Gehret family breathed a sigh of relief when Kyle and his unit arrived at Twentynine Palms for an emotional reunion with loved ones.

So began 14 months stateside. Kyle Gehret will come home Sept. 7 for a month of leave. After that, he may head out on another seven-month deployment. That's the emotional rollercoaster faced by other Coastside families with sons and daughters in Iraq.

Still, Debbie Gehret is at peace.

"Who am I to stand in Kyle's way?" she said. "If you've done your job well raising kids, they should be like a butterfly that flies off. To stop him - no way. It'd be like standing in front of a freight train going 100 miles an hour."

Stories told by Gehret's uncle, Jason Deitschman, 37, and a 20-year Marine, fueled that train.

Kyle Gehret was a highly ranked Central Coast Section high school wrestler who was sidelined with a knee injury. For a time, he was most concerned the injury would affect his military plans.

Besides the rigors of boot camp, Gehret and his unit underwent the month-long "Mojave Viper" training: Mock Iraqi villages were set up for realistic combat situations involving other Marines, some of them actual amputees.

"They use (simulated) blood like it's Halloween," Bob Gehret said. "It's as real as it could get without bullets flying" - though sometimes they used live ammo. Trainers included Christian Jensen of Half Moon Bay, who faces his own second deployment this fall.

In January, Gehret, now a lance corporal with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, left Twentynine Palms, destination deployment.

He found surprises when he arrived southeast of Fallujah: cool weather, green farmland and "it was weird to see buildings riddled with bullet holes."

He and his unit were "taking the fight to the enemy." On Day 1, they found a weapons cache. Later, they found nests of explosives, wires or shells. Once they found a crude attempt to hide a bomb in a soccer ball. "A pretty smart idea," Gehret ruefully admitted.

Slipping and sliding in rain and mud in the same clothes all week in 118-degree temperatures, the unit hunted terrorists. At one point, they faced Al-Qaeda sympathizers and local residents who didn't like Al-Qaeda or Americans. The fighting "was like a free-for-all" until the Marines brokered a three-way truce Gehret drily called "awesome."

Once the unit heard gunfire and "all of a sudden, the fire shifted at us. We radioed headquarters that we were under heavy contact - in the process of taking cover."

There were lighter moments, like his 21st birthday. "How many people can say they turned 21 in Iraq?" Gehret said. His job was to protect the commanding officer, accompanying him to conferences with other top officers. One night, his Humvee went off a bridge into a canal in a strange area, and he pulled comrades to safety.

At home, the family waited - and trusted what they could.

"I've always been an admirer of the Marines," said Bob Gehret. "The training and everything about it is first-rate."

A note of wistfulness came into his voice when he said he wanted to serve in Vietnam, but his mother talked him out of joining up.

"The Marines are such a tight-knit group," he said. "These guys care about each other."

Kyle agreed: "How many guys can you say 'I hate you' to, and they give you a thumbs-up?"

Gehret's mother avoided news broadcasts while the family adjusted to a surreal new life. "After that first call, I remember driving to the beach," she said. "People were walking their dogs. People were enjoying the day. My kid was on the other side of the world in fatigues, fighting."

She knew if she got a phone call from the Marines, it meant her son was hurt. If he were killed, the Corps would send a representative in person to inform the family. "When we were away for the weekend, I wondered if there would be a car waiting when we got back," she said.

Their tension spread. "It was kind of scary when he told us he went off the bridge," said Jacob.

How did he cope? "Pray."

"I missed him a lot," said Katilin, emphasizing the last word.

Faith was a rock for the Gehrets. The family remembered Kyle over grace at mealtimes and their church, Mariners Community, formed a prayer team.

Overseas, Gehret prayed too. "It helps a lot over there," he said. "Everyone believes something."

Before he left, he and his family had discussed eternity.

"He said, 'If I die, I'll be waiting ahead of you,'" Kyle's mother said.

"That gave me great hope," she said as her husband fixed his eyes in the distance, blinking hard. "To me, that was great comfort."

It all paid off on Aug. 22 at Twentynine Palms. The base was alive with welcoming signs; one read "Danger zone: hugs and kisses ahead." A separate tent shaded new mothers waiting to introduce fathers to their babies.

"When I saw him get off the bus, tears popped out of my eyes," said Kaitlin. "I was so excited. My brother's back home."

"I was totally in tears," said Jacob, who had written stories for school about his big brother.

Though on the lookout for changes in him, they didn't see any.

"I was kind of worried he might be different. Kinda mean," said Jacob. "But he was really nice (before Iraq.) He's still nice."

"I saw a lot more responsible man than he was," said Kaitlin. "More mature."

Bob Gehret wants time with his son on a deer hunt, a favorite shared activity. "I'm really looking forward to being in the fog and the hills, so we can talk," he said.

He paused and wiped his eyes. "I can't describe how proud I am."

But for the young Marine, there is "a different outlook on life."

He said he saw poverty-stricken Iraqi citizens who scorned begging to work to feed themselves. Here, he said, "You see a bunch of people spoiled from American life. I don't have as much pity as I did."

Still, he paraphrases something he read in a magazine over there: "For those being fought for, peace has a flavor protected in ways they will never know."

He avoids politics beyond saying that he, too, is proud.

"We're doing good things over there," he said. "We cleared out an area of Al-Qaeda that hadn't been taken in four years."



Debbie Gehret, mother of Kyle Gehret of the Marine Corps, scribbles a list of names.

They're all young peers of her son, Kyle, who are serving with different branches of the military over in Iraq.

She admits her list may not be complete, and there were other names she couldn't think of. But it includes:

From the Marines: Ryan Bell, Ryan Cox, Kyle Gehret, Bryce Jensen, Christian Jensen, Brian O'Donnell, Paul Ollerton and Brendan Shue.

Army: Dean Armes, Sonia Flores, Zac Stone.

Navy: Stephen La Mascus.

Air Force: Wilder Mata.

- Stacy Trevenon