As the fighting in Iraq continues, the United States has been sending more and more members of the National Guard into combat. These are not full-time enlisted troops - they're people with other full-time jobs who commit one weekend a month to the military. The National Guard is typically called out to help fight wildfires, or maintain order after a disaster. Now, as National Guard members are dying in Iraq, the realities of the war are hitting home in more communities across the United States.
Eleven Guardsmen from Georgia died last month in three road bombings in Iraq - the first combat deaths the state's National Guard has seen since World War II. One of them was James Kinlow.
Daphanie Kinlow sits on her bed, her arms wrapped around a large cardboard box. "This is my James Kinlow box," she explains. "It's my time capsule." It contains newspaper announcements of her husband's death and dozens of sympathy cards from people throughout the country… many of whom she doesn't even know. "It's just been overwhelming how they've come out and said 'we appreciate the sacrifice that your husband made' - and that I will share with my grandkids one day."
35-year-old James Kinlow and three of his comrades on the 48th Brigade Combat Team were killed when their Humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device during a patrol in Baghdad. Mrs. Kinlow knew something was wrong when she didn't hear from him. She stayed late at work at the McDuffie County School offices near her home in Thomson, Georgia. She thought about what her husband said would happen if he died: two military officials would bring her the news, "…and I was just standing there and happened to look up," she recalls, "and here come two suits down the hall. And I said 'Oh my God.'" They stepped into a room where one read the announcement of James Kinlow's death. "Bless his heart, the chaplain was, he was there, he was steady but the guy that read it… he could not get through it. He just sobbed with me."
Major General David Poythress oversees Georgia's National Guard. He says losing all these soldiers within days of each other has been a tough blow to the state's military community. He compares it to "a death in the family. It's painful for everybody involved. Certainly most for the families, but also for their extended family in the Guard."
Most of the 9000 members of the Georgia National Guard have served in Iraq over the past two years -- but these were the first combat deaths in six decades. "We've had to learn how to hold military funerals," the Major General says, adding he expects it will be tougher to draw people into the National Guard. "I think it's fair to say that we will see some changes in terms of recruiting and retention. Certainly, recruiting is down. There's no doubt that it's because of the war and the ultimate possibility of death."
James and Daphanie Kinlow's son Chauncey, 15, says he'll never go into the military. He explains, "I look at the sacrifices that he made and military isn't for everybody. No sir." His mom jumps in to add another reason. "Your mamma probably is gonna scream and kick and fall out if you do. I can't bear to lose another to that."
Daphanie Kinlow's brother Dave Ferguson was a full-time enlisted soldier who served in Iraq. He's now out of the military, and feels conflicted about the war. On one hand, he believes it's a necessary part of the global war on terrorism. "But at the same time I feel like we're fighting a losing battle because when people are willing to sacrifice their life for what they believe in, you're almost in a no-win situation."
Daphanie Kinlow says when her husband got orders to go to Iraq, he spoke highly of the mission, saying it might help protect his son and daughter Chelsea, 10, or their children, in the future. She worried that National Guard troops were not as prepared as full-time enlisted troops, but her husband tried to convince her they were. She says in the end, no amount of preparation would have saved him. "How are you to know that bombs on the side of the road are planted in dead animals and all this other stuff, dead bodies, things of that nature?" she asks. "I don't think anybody's prepared for that."
She describes James Kinlow as funny, loving, and straight-talking. He was very close to his family, and was one of the loudest cheering parents at his son's football games. And even if she didn't share his view of the Iraq war, she never let him know. "He was a soldier. He's my soldier," she explains. "Regardless of how I felt about the war efforts or what I feel about the administration or President Bush or anybody else… he's my soldier and I support my soldier."
James Kinlow was buried after a funeral at the 1st Baptist Church in Lincolnton, Georgia, the church he attended since childhood.