Family of Navy reservist overwhelmed by support

Wife of Old Bridge man
now serving in Kuwait
due to give birth in May

By sue m. morgan
Staff Writer

Wife of Old Bridge man
now serving in Kuwait
due to give birth in May
By sue m. morgan
Staff Writer

PHOTOS BY VERONICA YANKOWSKI Scott Mitchell cuddles with a stuffed animal sent by his father. Below, Taylor Mitchell reads a postcard from her father, who is stationed in Kuwait.PHOTOS BY VERONICA YANKOWSKI Scott Mitchell cuddles with a stuffed animal sent by his father. Below, Taylor Mitchell reads a postcard from her father, who is stationed in Kuwait.

OLD BRIDGE — Seven-year-old Taylor Mitchell treasures her child-size T-shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe in Kuwait City, and a stuffed camel, both gifts from her father who is now serving with the U.S. Navy Reserve.

Taylor’s brother, Scott Jr., 5, eagerly explained how servicemen hide inside a man-made bunker of sandbags when they suspect they could be attacked.

His mother, Barbara, showed him a photograph sent home by his father of the sandbag bunkers.

"Take cover!" Scott excitedly shouted, imitating an actual attack in the desert.

The children’s father, Scott Mitchell, a U.S. Navy reservist ranked as an AO2 (aviation ordnance 2nd class), has asked Scott Jr. to watch over Barbara while he is away for an undetermined amount of time in Kuwait.

"Keep mommy safe," Scott Jr. said, repeating his father’s directions.

Scott Jr., Taylor, their teenage sister Morgan, and even the family’s black Labrador retriever, Marino, have all risen to the occasion of protecting their mother.

Barbara, who is proud of her children’s resilience, wants her neighbors, family members and friends to know that she is eternally grateful for all the assistance they have provided, from helping out around the house to running the kids around to their numerous activities.

Morgan, 17, an Old Bridge High School junior, is now preparing for her prom, which will be held tomorrow night. Taylor, a second-grader at Grissom Elementary School, will receive First Communion at St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church on May 4. Scott Jr. will graduate from Tiny Tykes preschool later this spring.

All three children are involved in various sporting activities through the Old Bridge Rams and Cheesequake Baseball Association.

Perhaps most life-altering, Barbara is expected to give birth to a fourth child on May 22, and hopes that Scott can be present for that event.

"I keep praying that he may be able to come home for the baby’s birth," said Barbara, who wears a small yellow ribbon on her blouse.

Scott, whose reserve unit is stationed at the Earle Weapons Station in Colts Neck, has been in Kuwait since Jan. 3. The Mitchell family last gathered together, as a cherished photograph shows, in Yorktown, Va., where they spent a post-Christmas vacation.

After that visit, Scott, 39, boarded a chartered bus that took him and other members of the Atlantic Ordnance Command, Detachment Earle Navy, away to prepare for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The operation was launched by American and British forces on March 19.

Through satellite telephone calls and letters, Barbara and the children know that Scott and his command, known in military terms as the Landordcom Expeditionary Force (LEF), are living at "Camp Patriot" in Kuwait.

Soon after his arrival, Scott sent home photographs showing the huge tent that now serves as his temporary quarters, other members of his command at work, and a truck he drives through the desert.

Scott is not engaged in actual combat, but loads and unloads rockets and other ordnance onto trucks that are driven through the desert by U.S Marines, Barbara explained.

Back at home, Scott is employed as a Conrail locomotive engineer and as a real estate agent for Gabrielle Realty in Milltown.

Cards and letters to Barbara and all the children have arrived on an ongoing basis, even if they have been somewhat delayed.

"The mail is held for six weeks," Barbara explained.

Taylor said she enjoys reading her father’s cards over and over again.

"I miss you," Taylor read from one. "Be good."

On Sunday, Taylor returned from Ohio where she participated in a junior cheer-leading competition with her squad, the Comet All-Stars. Because Barbara had to remain at home, Taylor’s aunt and her mother’s sister, Denise, escorted her to the competition. The squad took second place, and Taylor made sure she told her father later that night.

"Dad said, ‘Whoo!’" Taylor recalled happily.

Though Scott does not have access to the Internet or e-mail, Taylor said she has called him approximately every two days via a satellite telephone.

"He can’t call me," she said.

On Valentine’s Day, Scott had access to a telephone for 15 minutes, Barbara said. He called home and then called Old Bridge Florist to order flowers to be delivered to his family. After placing his order, Scott passed the telephone to a few of the other men in his command, said Barbara. Several of those men also reside in Middlesex County or in Staten Island, N.Y. They, too, ordered flowers for delivery to their families, Barbara said.

In addition to the T-shirts, stuffed animals and other souvenirs Scott has sent home, Barbara and the three children have received gold dog tag-type pendants, each engraved with their names.

Barbara’s necklace is engraved with the words "Barbara and Scott."

"He’s a keeper," she noted.

Neighbors, relatives and the children’s schoolmates and teachers have ralliedaround the Mitchells ever since Scott left for duty. From shoveling snow, cutting grass and making home repairs to placing yellow ribbons around the neighborhood, the community has stepped up, Barbara said.

"Our neighbors watch out for us," Barbara said. "Everyone has been wonderful."

Taylor’s teachers and classmates at Grissom Elementary School have sent cards and letters to Scott, as have Scott Jr.’s classmates and teachers at Tiny Tykes.

In addition, Taylor’s Brownie troop drew pictures and sent letters to the men in Scott’s unit. Barbara, a Girl Scout troop leader, remembered how the young girls reacted when their letters were answered.

"The kids were thrilled because [the letters] came from Taylor’s dad," she said.

Barbara’s troop co-leader, Sue Karpiak, even organized a surprise baby shower with the assistance of several of the Brownies.

Morgan’s teachers and schoolmates have also been available to talk with her about the void left by her father’s temporary absence.

"My friends at school have helped so much," Morgan said.

Bob Waitt, a counselor at the high school, has continuously checked with Morgan and the family as a whole, Barbara said.

"I can’t say enough about him," she said.

Parents and teammates from the Old Bridge Rams organization and the Cheesequake Baseball Association have helped transport the children to games and other events, Barbara said.

"They said, ‘If you need anything, just call.’ "

In Kuwait, Scott was pleased to hear of the community’s outpouring of generosity and support for his family, and he wants to publicly thank them, Barbara said.

Whenever Scott does return, Morgan promised to have plenty of photographs from her prom at the Garden Manor in Aberdeen.

"The prom has been everything I’ve been expecting," Morgan said. "I wish my dad was here for it."

Even though Taylor’s First Communion will go off as planned, the little girl decided not to have a party following the church ceremony unless her father was able to attend, her mother said.

"She doesn’t want to have a party without daddy," Barbara said.

The Navy has also provided ongoing support to the Mitchells and other families of servicemen and -women who are on active duty, Barbara said.

Even though Barbara would rather have Scott at home, she said she sees the war as necessary. The troops are doing what they have to do and are doing it well, she said.

At Earle, Barbara has often stood by as other Navy families sent loved ones off to duty. That experience has always been heart-wrenching, she said. Now she knows, personally, what they experience.

"You feel for everyone and you feel for the soldiers because no one expects to go to war," she said.

The family on a whole has seen that unfortunate circumstances can bring out the best in a community.

"We’ve even heard from people we don’t know," Barbara said. "We have wonderful neighbors, friends and family in this community.