Soldier returning to Iraq

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If you know an area service member who could use some home-front support, call Molly Hibbard (879-8100) or Marci Valicenti (879-500) of "Support the Troops."

— Former Steamboat Springs resident Wesley Mottlau knows that when he returns to Iraq for his second tour of duty in three weeks, he'll be missing some of the milestones in the life of his infant daughter, Ava Marie.

But he also knows his mother, Molly Hibbard, and her friend Marci Valicenti will be supporting the men and women in his unit, as well as hundreds of others, with care packages from home.

Mottlau moved here from Miami in January 1994, when he was in seventh grade. He attended Steamboat Springs High School and the Lowell Whiteman School, later earning a GED. He decided on a military career while attending Santa Fe Junior College in Gainesville, Fla.

Based at Fort Bragg, N.C., Mottlau said he was recently promoted to sergeant in his heavy artillery support unit with the Army's 82nd airborne Division.

"During my first tour in 2003, we caught up with the invasion in Mosul," Mottlau said. He's optimistic that in relative terms, his mission this time will be safer than his first tour. "We'll be supporting convoys arriving at a forward operating base," Mottlau said. "It's basically a desk job."

A desk job sounds just fine to the soldier who has married and had a daughter since his first tour of duty in Iraq. Mottlau married Jenna Turner on Sept. 3, 2004.

"I know I'll miss seeing (Ava Marie) take her first steps, and I'll miss her first birthday," Mottlau said.

While Mottlau is serving in Iraq, Hibbard and Valicenti will for the third year be collecting merchandise, gifts and cash to support care packages that make life easier for the servicemen and women.

Those items can include the obvious -- toothbrushes and DVD's of TV sitcoms -- and the surprising -- pet flea collars.

During his first tour of duty, Hibbard said, her son wore flea collars around his boots to deter biting insects of Iraq.

Hibbard and Valicenti have formed an organization called "Support the Troops" under the auspices of the Yampa Valley Community foundation. The intent, Valicenti said, is not to make a political statement in support of the war but to recognize that anyone, regardless of his or her stance on the conflict in Iraq, might be interested in showing compassion for the servicemen and women there.

"They don't have a choice abut where they serve," she said.

Valicenti said that by sending one large care package to a military person from this region, they reach hundreds of their buddies.

"Support the Troops" accepts gifts and cash -- it takes an amount of postage equivalent to the value of a gift to get it overseas, Valicenti said. Checks can be made out to Yampa Valley Community Foundation with the notation "Support the Troops" at the bottom, or donors can use a credit card online at YVCF.org. Gifts can be dropped off at the new Prudential Steamboat Realty location in Wildhorse Marketplace or at Steamboat Real Estate at 635 Yampa St.

Now that it's winter, it's safe to send chocolates to Iraq, Hibbard said. The two women continue to collect body powder and foot powder in lieu of deodorant, which melts in the heat of summertime Iraq. Other requested items include current magazines and books, used books, sugarless gum, Nerf footballs and small, inexpensive electronic games such as checkers.

"I never thought we'd still be doing this after three years," Hibbard said.

Her son is thinking ahead to a return to his family.

"See you at Christmas," he said. "Not this Christmas, but next Christmas."

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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