Steamboat Springs resident Joseph Nerney, a lance corporal in the Marines, talks on the phone at a military base in Bangor, Maine, shortly before being deployed to Afghanistan in February. Nerney is expected to return to the U.S. any day.

Courtesy of Kathy Nerney

Steamboat Springs resident Joseph Nerney, a lance corporal in the Marines, talks on the phone at a military base in Bangor, Maine, shortly before being deployed to Afghanistan in February. Nerney is expected to return to the U.S. any day.

Routt County military families focus on Afghanistan

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— The last time a pair of suitcases sat packed for weeks by Kevin and Kathy Nerney’s front door, the couple was preparing to rush off to the hospital in a moment’s notice to give birth to their first son, Joseph.

Today, two suitcases again sit packed by the front door, waiting to be taken on a trip to welcome 19-year-old Joseph Nerney back from the other side of the world.

“When he comes home, he’ll be enjoying a thick juicy steak and a baked potato,” Kathy Nerney said. “He’ll also enjoy a hot shower, something he rarely gets in Afghanistan.”

When Kevin and Kathy Ner­ney receive the phone call from Joseph, which could come any day now, they will drop everything and drive 13 hours to meet him at Camp Pendle­­ton in San Diego. Joseph Nerney, a lance corporal in a Marine intelligence division, is serving in the Hel­­mand Province of southern Afghanistan and has been unable to update his Facebook status or call home regularly.

“I’m not going to miss that call when it comes,” Kathy Nerney said as she pointed to a cell phone secured at her hip. “We don’t know where we’re going to stay yet when we get to San Diego, but we’ll have to wing it.”

As a military mom in Routt County, she doesn’t have to look far to find other local military families who can offer support and friendship as she waits for the rare phone call or e-mail from her son.

“We all have this connection, a military mom’s connection,” she said. “If you’re feeling blue and you haven’t seen your son in a while, you give Diane a call.”

Diane Anderson’s son, Alex Palaniuk, who graduated from Steamboat High School in 2008, served a tour as an Army medic in Iraq and has since returned to the U.S. When Palaniuk’s tour in Iraq was winding down, Joe Nerney was just beginning his own tour in Afghanistan. Anderson sent an e-mail to Kathy Nerney, offering support and advice.

“The bond between the families here is amazing, and I don’t think anybody can understand that unless you are part of the military,” Anderson said.

Last week’s announcement that U.S. combat operations in Iraq officially have ended has been met with a wide range of emotions from Routt County families who currently have or have had loved ones serve overseas. With 50,000 troops expected to remain in Iraq, several Routt County families now turn their attention to Afghanistan.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet thing for us,” said Routt County resident Dave Daschle, whose son Michael Daschle completed a 10-month tour in Iraq and an 18-month tour in Afghanistan piloting Chinook helicopters as a member of the 101st Airborne. “We’re glad combat in Iraq is over, but with the war in Afghanistan still going, there is still a lot of concern for the soldiers that will be going there.”

John Daschle, Michael Das­chle’s younger brother, is expected to serve in Afghanistan soon as a member of the Air Force.

“It’s hard to consider sending another one for nine months,” said Cheri Daschle, John’s mother. “We’re very proud of him, and we hope that we have a mission that is accomplishable there and that we can make a difference.”

Cheri and David Daschle said that despite people’s political views on the wars, the level of support they have experienced locally hasn’t faded.

“Even though members of the community might have political disagreements about the war, we all support our soldiers without hesitation,” Cheri Daschle said. “I feel there is nothing but support here in Steamboat.”

As the Nerneys continue to wait for the phone call from their son, they say it’s that community support that keeps their spirits high.

“Not a day goes by where I’m not stopped in the grocery store or the post office and asked how Joe is doing,” Kathy Nerney said.

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