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Ready at the front: Juneau residents serve

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Michelle Fenumia'i hasn't heard from her husband in three weeks, so she and her 5-year-old daughter Devan must content themselves with photos of Army Sgt. Lui Fenumia'i shaving in the Kuwaiti desert and posing in camouflage with members of his squad.

As far as Lisa Viteri knows, her son Spc. Michael Moniak is in the Kuwaiti desert, although she hasn't heard from him since Feb. 27. Spc. Lester Hunt Jr.'s mother Margaret said her son is with the Airborne Infantry in Italy awaiting orders to ship to the Persian Gulf, as is Gloria Cox's nephew, Jesse, an Army mechanic stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. And Pvt. Patrick Wheaton, the son of Pat and Harvey Wheaton, is stationed in Fort Polk, La., and preparing for deployment to Iraq.

State and military officials did not have specific numbers on how many more people from Juneau are on active duty in the Persian Gulf or headed there as the United States prepares for what appears to be imminent war with Iraq. But 309 of the 4,500 Alaska-based National Guard and Naval Reserve personnel had been mobilized at last count, most of those from the Air National Guard.

Lui Fenumia'i, 26, joined the Army in June 2000, a month after the former Juneau-Douglas High School football star married his longtime girlfriend, Michelle.

"He'd always talked about it while he was in high school, and he has an uncle that's in the Army. It seemed really exciting to him," Michelle Fenumia'i said. "He was working here and wasn't sure what he wanted to do and he decided that the Army would be the best choice for him."

Fenumia'i completed his training at Fort Benning, Ga., and he and his family were stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga. Michelle, 25, and daughter Devan decided to come home to Juneau while Fenumia'i was deployed, as they did last year while he was in Kosovo. Both Michelle and Lui's parents live in Juneau.

Devan has good days and bad days, her mother said. She gets sad when she hears songs she and her father used to sing or sees his photo.

Michelle is not sure when her husband will return.

"He was due to come back around June, and he's basically said, 'Don't expect me back in June,' " she said. "When he talks to me he's upbeat, but I can tell that he's a little scared. He doesn't want to go to war, but then at the same time ... he definitely thinks that something needs to be done."

For Spc. Michael Moniak, 22, the call to serve was loud enough that he re-enlisted even before his first obligation was up, said his mother, Lisa Viteri. Moniak is based at Fort Campbell, Ky., but has served in South Korea and Afghanistan, where he guarded the perimeter of the Kandahar Airport for six months and found himself in more than one firefight. After this deployment, Viteri said, her son would like to be stationed in Fairbanks. She'd like that, too.

"I'm concerned for him, worried for him, and I'm proud of him. I'm hoping that whatever they have to do, they make sure that there's never another 9-11 in our country," said Viteri, who sports a red sticker on her car with a blue star signifying she has a loved one away serving his country.

She can't wait for her son to return home and serenade her with his guitar; Moniak plays a mean version of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," she said.

For now, Viteri knows her son has a mission.

"His attitude has been that there's a job that needs to be done, and he's made mention more than once that he and his fellow soldiers want to go get their job done and then come home," she said.

The 309 reservists and members of the National Guard who have been called up are part of Alaska's total reserve of 4,500 troops, said Maj. Mike Haller, a spokesman for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. It's hard to say how many more reservists could be called to duty, he said.

"I can say that we have forces that are ready if we're called upon," he said.

Alaska's mobilization is light compared to other states partly because Alaska is part of the Pacific command, and must be ready to mobilize if anything happens in that region - North Korea, for example - Haller said.



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