Hard-earned holidays | SteamboatToday.com

Hard-earned holidays

Some local soldiers fortunate to spend time in Steamboat Springs

Margaret Hair

Carol Ward holds a photograph of her son Daniel who is currently stationed in Fort Hood, Texas. Daniel, a 2002 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, has served in Korea and Iraq. He is expected to be home for the holidays this year.

Steamboat Springs — Sgt. Daniel Ward first told his parents he wanted to join the U.S. Army when he was 7 years old. — Sgt. Daniel Ward first told his parents he wanted to join the U.S. Army when he was 7 years old.

— Sgt. Daniel Ward first told his parents he wanted to join the U.S. Army when he was 7 years old.

“When I was a kid, I always wanted to join the Army,” Ward said on the phone from Fort Hood in Texas, where he’s been stationed since April.

When Ward comes home to Steamboat Springs next week for a two-week break, he’ll be back for his second holiday season since his first tour in Iraq ended in November 2006.

“It was nice to be able to relax, and not have to worry about much,” Ward said of coming home the first time, after spending a year in Baqubah, then a Sunni stronghold about 40 miles northeast of Baghdad.

“Every time I come back, there’s something different with Steamboat, so it is sort of weird,” Ward said, referring to the downtown developments that have sprouted up since he joined the armed forces the summer after he graduated from high school.

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Being able to spend time with Daniel during the past two holiday periods is a relief for his mother, Carol Ward, who said it was difficult not knowing where her son was shortly after he deployed.

“We couldn’t even send Christmas cards to any of these guys, because we didn’t know where he was going to be,” Carol Ward said.

“That was very, very difficult for us. You know, your kid’s not there, and they’re in danger, and you know that,” she said. “Yes, it was difficult. And I thought we maintained quite well, frankly.”

Sitting in the sanctuary of Holy Name Catholic Church, Carol Ward described her son as a clean-cut kid who ran cross country for four years at Steamboat Springs High School, wore a kilt to his senior prom and sported camouflage (and only camouflage) for most of his school days.

“He knew that he wanted to be in the service when he was really young,” Carol Ward said. Daniel Ward signed up for a delayed enlistment when he was 17, and officially joined in July 2002, determined to gain respect by rising through the ranks.

He’ll turn 24 in January, and his unit is set to return to Iraq in April. Ward said his enlistment ends in July, and he was not sure if he’ll be redeployed.

In any case, Carol Ward said, her son is “ready to come home for a break.”

Sandra Smyser, interim superintendent of the Steamboat Springs School District, also is looking forward to having enlisted family members home for the holidays. Her daughter and son-in-law are based in Germany, and have each spent one tour in Iraq.

Both graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and both were originally scheduled to be back in the war zone in November. That date has been pushed back to March, and the couple will spend two weeks skiing in Steamboat during the winter holidays.

“Especially when they’re in Iraq, it’s difficult this time to imagine them being there for 15 months,” Smyser said.

“You feel it more at the holiday season, but I think more than that, it’s just difficult all the time. Several of their classmates and friends from West Point have been killed or really badly injured,” she said.

“You always worry about them. You worry about their safety.”