Military families track loved ones via Internet

Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2003

Camille Beitia has received one letter from her son, 22-year-old Marine Cpl. Nicholas Beitia, since he left for the Persian Gulf. But she knows he's in Nasiriyah, Iraq, because he was quoted in an Associated Press article that ran in her former hometown newspaper, The Elko Daily Free Press, in Elko, Nev.

"They put him on the front page. I couldn't believe it; it was so cool!" she said.

Beitia, of Juneau, has tried to stop watching the news, but continues to track the movements of her son's company through the U.S. Marine Corps Web site.

"I go there every day and click on the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and that has helped me a lot," she said.

The wide access to news from the front has been helped by the hundreds of embedded journalists who are traveling with military units in the Gulf. But the detailed information can add - as well as alleviate - worry.

It was through the AP story, for example, that Beitia learned her son had survived a shootout and seen a fellow soldier fall.

On the whole, however, Juneau residents who are trying to keep tabs on their loved ones are happy to have the information.

At the Fenumia'i home, AP photographer John Moore has become a household name. Michelle Fenumia'i, whose husband, 26-year-old Sgt. Lui Fenumia'i, is in the Gulf, searches Yahoo!'s military slide show every day for pictures of her husband, and the four she has found all have been by Moore. She believes Moore must be embedded with her husband's unit, the 3rd Battalion of the 7th Infantry Regiment, and thanks to his photographs, she knows Lui was on the grounds of Saddam Hussein's presidential palace last week.

"I spend about half an hour to an hour; they put up about 20 new pictures a day. It's exciting for me to see him on there," Fenumia'i said.

Through wire service photographs, Nick Goddard learned his son, 21-year-old Sgt. Lucas Goddard, received the Bronze Star for taking direct enemy fire during an assault on an airfield at An-Najaf, Iraq. Lucas Goddard is with the Army's 101st Airborne Division.

In a cross-country phone link, Nick Goddard heard about the photo from a friend in Sitka, where Lucas went to high school, who worked at a radio station. That friend heard from a friend back East who works for the AP.

Since then, Goddard and his wife have spent a lot of time looking for photos online and watching network news coverage.

"We look at the pictures of the day, and you hope to catch something," Goddard said last week. "I thought I saw him today (on FOX). There was a guy holding a bag at the bank, and it sure the heck looked like him. But it may not have been him. Put a guy in a uniform, cut all the hair off, and they all look a lot alike."

Goddard also saw his son on FOX last week, when he was interviewed by Geraldo Rivera in connection with his Bronze Star.

Not all families with soldiers abroad must rely on Internet photographs for news.

Steve Thomas and his wife, Marine Lt. Col. Valerie Thomas, 44, e-mail almost every day. Valerie served 10 years of active duty in the Marine Corps, and has been in the reserves for nine years. In her civilian life, she works as an environmental specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

She is in southern Iraq and has been in the Gulf since the beginning of January.

Steve, who also works for the BIA, said he continues to watch the news religiously.

"When we took Baghdad, her e-mails were telling me not to worry," he said.

Sammie Mae Osborne, an aviation ordnanceman with the Navy, serves on the USS Kitty Hawk in the Gulf. The 21-year-old Hoonah resident has been in the Navy for three years and is based in Japan. She has better e-mail access than soldiers in the field, and her aunt, Juneau resident Annette Osborne, has been in touch with her via the Internet.

"We haven't heard anything about her coming back yet. The other day she was just e-mailing us to tell us that she was OK and they were still there," Annette Osborne said.

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