October 14, 2003

'Every Day We Ask Ourselves What We're Doing There,' says Blaise Blastos, on Leave from Iraq

Here is the truth. From a soldier on leave. Not from a
form letter sent in his name. Blaise Blastos belongs
on the John O'Neill Wall of Heroes.
Ann Arbor News: Although he voted for George Bush, he says he won't do so again. "All the reasons for going to war were based on miscalculations, errors and plain untruths," he said. "I can't justify all these people spending a year of their lives based on politicians' untruths.

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1013-05.htm

Published on Monday, October 13, 2003 by the Ann Arbor
News (Michigan)
Reservist Home - For Now
'Every Day We Ask Ourselves What We're Doing There,' says Blaise Blastos, on Leave from Iraq

by Jo Collins Mathis

Friends, family and red, white, and blue balloons
welcomed Blaise Blastos home to Ann Arbor from Iraq on
Saturday evening. But the rah-rah spirit was dampened
by sober reality.

Yes, the U.S. Army reservist is home. But it's only
for two weeks.

Yes, he is serving his country. But he says what's
going on over there is not only discouraging and
demoralizing, but a waste of time for a whole lot of
homesick American soldiers.

All the reasons for going to war were based on
miscalculations, errors and plain untruths. I can't
justify all these people spending a year of their
lives based on politicians' untruths.

Blaise Blastos
Yes, he is happy to finally be reunited with Joanna,
his wife of less than a year who is now in her seventh
month of pregnancy. But he'll be back in Iraq when his
son is born in early December.

While the U.S. involvement in Iraq is no longer given
as much attention by most Americans as it was during
and shortly after the invasion, the military operation
is the central theme of the Blatoses' short time as
husband and wife.

Blaise Blastos, 36, tries to keep things in
perspective, but it's difficult given all that has
happened to him and his wife since the first of the
year. He looks forward to the day next spring when
he'll be sent home for good, but then he thinks of the
best man at his March wedding who was killed by a
grenade in Iraq in July.

"They already had their homecoming," he said of the
man's family. "But they brought a coffin home."

Joanna Blastos barely knows where to begin when
someone asks, "What's new?"

A year ago, the lifelong Ann Arborite had just met the
man of her dreams.

On February 6, Blaise, who was enlisted in the Ann
Arbor Army Reserve, learned his skills were needed in
the Middle East.

On Feb. 8, he left Ann Arbor for training in
Wisconsin.

On March 12, Joanna Kokkales and Blaise Blastos were
married at a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin.

On a weekend visit two weeks later, she got pregnant.

And in April, he left for active duty in the Middle
East.

His return this weekend gave Joanna a respite from
spending every waking minute worried something will
happen to him. He arrived home on his leave
coincidentally on the day Joanna's family and friends
were having a baby shower for her, so the guests from
around the country were able to greet the returning
reservist.

"It's good to see him alive," said his mother, Joan
Blastos, of Pittsburg, where he grew up. She said her
husband turns on the radio at 5 a.m. every day to hear
whether there were any American casualties in Iraq
overnight.

Blastos, a supply sergeant who quickly replaced his
Army fatigues with blue jeans and a white oxford shirt
when he got home Saturday, shakes his head when asked
to describe the military duties in Iraq. He sums it up
in a word: terrible.

"Every day we ask ourselves what we're doing there,"
he said. "We can't come up with a good answer."

Back in May, he and other reservists helped build two
pontoon bridges. Since then, he and about 175 others
have had far less to do in their station in Ba'qubah
near Baghdad. At most, they work three hours a day,
which leaves a lot of free time to commiserate among
themselves. Nobody feels proud of what they're doing
there, he said.

At first, the Iraqis were happy the Americans were
there, but that sentiment has changed to resentment,
he said.

Although he voted for George Bush, he says he won't do
so again. "All the reasons for going to war were based
on miscalculations, errors and plain untruths," he
said. "I can't justify all these people spending a
year of their lives based on politicians' untruths."
Blastos said he would have felt differently had he
served in World War II, where there was a clearly
defined goal, threat and outcome.

"Everything's muddled now, nothing is clear-cut," he
said, as his chocolate Labrador, LaLa, paced through
the house of relatives, a red, white and blue ribbon
round his neck.

Blastos said those in active duty don't support the
reserve units, which are provided little money for
basics. "We get what they don't want, or what's left
over," he said, noting that he has to wake up at 4:30
a.m. to make a phone call home because there's just
one phone for 175 people. They were issued two
uniforms eight months ago, but nothing since. Some
reservists have no boots. His wife mailed him gloves
to use when he was sent on a mission to pick up trash
on the streets.

Joanna Blastos is also no fan of Bush, who recently
extended the service of all the reservists another six
to nine months. While her husband should have been
coming home for good this month, he'll likely still be
there until sometime next spring.

"I try not to watch the news much anymore because it
was throwing me into quite a depression, and my blood
pressure wasn't too hot for a while there," she said.
"Every day, you wait for that knock on the door."

Blaise Blastos moved to Ann Arbor to attend graduate
school at the University of Michigan in 1996. He has
been in the reserves since 1988, which required one
weekend of service a month. He will return to his job
as an environmental chemist in Plymouth at the end of
his reservist duties.

Asked what he misses most about the life he left
behind in February, Blastos said he misses getting up
and going to work every day. He misses Ann Arbor's
quiet neighborhoods, and most of all, his wife.

He knows several people who were killed or injured in
the past few months and says he is constantly scared.

"To some extent, we're all traumatized for life," he
said. "I get the feeling people in America don't know
what's going on over there. It's dangerous." He said
he'll always remember the sound of mortars at night,
and the trauma of learning his good friend and best
man had been killed in an ambush on a convoy in July.

Joanna Blastos must look forward to giving birth to
their son in early December without her husband
present.

"I think emotionally it's going to be very difficult,"
said Joanna, who will name the baby after his father.
"When you're a little girl, you dream of having a
baby. The person you want to look up at when that baby
comes out is your husband. I'm not going to be able to
do that."

She's grateful that this week he'll go to a doctor's
appointment for an ultrasound, attend her last infant
care class and go on a hospital tour to see where
she'll deliver their baby. He caught a few minutes of
her baby shower when he first arrived Saturday, and a
second shower is scheduled for the day he goes back to
Iraq.

Blastos said he feels they've been robbed of their
first year of marriage, but at the same time, is
grateful that circumstances prompted their wedding and
subsequent pregnancy. Otherwise, they figure they
would have waited another six months to a year to get
married and may have not been able to conceive so
quickly.

Sitting beside him on the couch, her hands on her
bulging belly, Joanna could barely take her eyes off
her husband Saturday evening in the first hours after
he arrived home.

"The whole thing is like a dream," she said. "It's
been a journey, that's for sure. It's the greatest
challenge my life has ever known. But it's been worth
every moment."

Her husband said he tries not to think of what he's
missed this past year, or that he won't be there for
the birth of his first child. His focus is on
returning to Iraq, following the routine, and then
returning home safely to his wife and baby.

"That's my motivation over there for staying alive:
She and the baby need me."

2003 Ann Arbor News

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Posted by richard at October 14, 2003 04:33 PM