Juneau GI en route to Afghanistan

Local family following war even more closely as they try to glean information about son

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2002

When airplanes commandeered by terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York, a Juneau family with a son in the Army felt the reverberations.

"The first thing," said Lisa Viteri, Michael Moniak's mother. "The first thing I thought of was Michael."

The family learned this week that Spc. Moniak, 21, has left Fort Campbell, Ky., for Afghanistan as part of the Army's 101st Airborne Division.

"It took a while to sink in," said Moniak's 15-year-old sister, Jessica. "I'm really proud of him. It's really hard because every time I get to talk to him there's so much I want to say, but I don't know what to say and how to say it except I love him."

Earlier this month the division began to relieve about 1,500 Marines at Kandahar airport to secure the airfield and guard prisoners, a sign of a longer American commitment to Afghanistan. Moniak expects to spend at least several months in Afghanistan, his family said.

Moniak joined the Army just after graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1999, "to get out and see a different part of the world, because you know how hard Juneau is to get out of," he said from Fort Campbell on Jan. 5, after hearing he would go to Afghanistan.

"A lot of us are anxious to go so we can hurry to get back," Moniak said. "No one's really scared. We're not surprised we're going."

Moniak said it was hard to describe what he felt going to war.

"We're excited, but this unit we've been with has trained us all year long," Moniak said. "We haven't had a break all year."

His mother said she's been worried since first hearing he would go to Afghanistan.

"The first few days were pretty rough, especially the first day. But I'm confident. I have faith he knows what he's there to do," she said.

"You want terrorism to end and you want the country to stop it," said Moniak's stepfather Alex Viteri, "but you don't necessarily want to do it with your own son. But it fell to him and we're proud of him."

Moniak's family won't be able to call him while he's overseas, and it takes three weeks for letters each way. "It's like we're back in the 18th century all of a sudden," Alex Viteri said.

So the family will be watching the television news and reading newspapers even more closely than now, if that's possible. "Any time there's a news blurb on, we're listening," he said.

The family sent Moniak photographs to take with him. And when he called recently from a transit point in Germany, they told him his grandparents had lighted candles and were praying for him. And they told him to be careful.

"There's a lot of respect for someone with the confidence he has," Viteri said. "The biggest danger at his age is being overconfident, so you ask him to be careful."

Two other members of Juneau families are known to have served in what's called Operation Enduring Freedom.

Robert Rogers, a sailor serving on the USS Carl Vinson, fueled jets aboard the aircraft carrier. And Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Bryce Collins manned a fighting hole in southern Afghanistan.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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