Forgetting the bad, remembering the good
Russ Earnest returned from a 14-month mission as part of the Nevada National Guard in Iraq on Sept. 1, 2007, and said he’s trying to remember the good and forget the bad.
“I’m trying to forget, but not forget my men,” he said. “The people I served with were top shelf, all-American. I was extremely proud to serve with everyone in the 593rd. They are excellent soldiers and never failed a mission. Chris Vedis, Aaron Castro – I’d have to give you 169 names – everyone did their jobs and never complained.”
Gardnerville resident Earnest is the motor sergeant for the Nevada Army Guard’s 593rd Transportation Co., a civilian technician for the military Department of Defense and is a welder and machinist for the Combined Support Maintenance shop in Carson City.
“My job in Iraq was motor sergeant but our mission was to oversee the maintenance of armored support vehicles and making sure the crews were protected and could accomplish their missions,” Russ said about his mission at Forward Operating Base Tallil in southern Iraq.
He said the days were long and the temperature never went below 100 degrees in the summer. The nights were short and were punctuated with the noise of enemy fire.
“You can train here (in the United States) but there’s nothing that can prepare you for what you encounter there,” he said. “You can condition yourself but you don’t know what to expect until you get there.”
After he and his company took a particularly heavy shelling, Russ asked one of his friends to take a photo of him in front of one of their container modules to send to his wife Diane. Russ was wearing his “killer gear” and a grim expression.
“Right here I’m thinking, ‘If I get out of this hole, I’ll do things differently.’ When I got home I bought a new travel trailer,” he said.
After a taking a month off after he came back from Iraq, Russ is back at his job at the maintenance shop but transferred to a different company when they needed a wheel vehicle technician and to help them prepare for future deployment if they’re called.
He said there’s a possibility he will be called to go back to war but that time will tell.
“I’m 55,” Russ said. “Keeping up is demanding. For the next five years I’d like to train and educate troops – be a mentor and instill in them about soldiering and being a good person. Going to Iraq was an experience and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
“I signed a contract, took an oath. Somebody was waiting on me as a replacement No one wants to go to war – I had to go.”
Russ enlisted in the Navy in 1971, served in Vietnam and said he wasn’t exactly welcomed home in 1975.
“Vets coming now are treated 100 percent better than after Vietnam,” he said.
Russ and Diane agree this support is what helps the people overseas as well as family at home.
“Diane took care of everything while I was gone,” said Russ. “That’s important because when I go away, somebody has to hold down the fort and sometimes you need help.”
Diane works at Community Health Nursing Clinic in Gardnerville and took a college course while her husband was away. She credits her grown children, friends and neighbors with supporting during those 14 months.
“My friend Anna Martin was always there for me and helped me a lot,” said Diane. “Ken and Sandra Webbs, our neighbors were there if I needed anything like when I had a dead battery. They asked me over for a beer or a barbecue. They included me and checked up on me.
“My children, Rachel and Eric Holton – they were here when I had some dental problems. Eric even changed the interior doors in the house.”
On the long trip home, Russ said all he could think about was sitting on his patio, looking at Jobs Peak and sharing a morning cup of coffee with his wife Diane.
“I can’t think of any place I’d rather be,” he said. “I missed the skunky smell of sagebrush when it first rains.
“The nicest thing was when I came home and saw my wife, the grandbabies and all the kids at the airport.”
Russ and Diane have taken the new travel trailer out for several trips since he’s been home and plan take it on a visit to friends in northern California on Thanksgiving.
He and some friends from the 593rd spent Veteran’s Day at Desert Creek near Wellington, playing horseshoes and reminiscing. Russ said people at home should remember every day that there are people serving overseas.
“Don’t get so busy that you don’t remember what’s going on,” he said. “I stop throughout the day and think about those kids over there. I hope it’s going OK.
“I know no one likes war but don’t forsake the kids who have families and are in the Army. My only hope is that it ends soon and we can bring them home.”
— Sharlene Irete is People Editor of The Record-Courier and may be reached at email@example.com or 782-5121, ext. 210.