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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Ann Arbor reservist returns home, briefly

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.

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."
"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 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."
-- from the Ann Arbor News, amazingly enough. If the Cubs win the World Series, maybe the News will even write an editorial about it.