By Margo Sullivan
LONDONDERRY — Soldiers bound for Iraq gripped baby bottles and bibs yesterday, instead of combat gear, and listened with family to Army speakers deliver a briefing in the dining room of the Londonderry Reserve Center.
Lt. Col. Gavin Heater, a commander of the 167th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, said the troops leave for Iraq on Oct. 18, and while they are overseas the Army wants the soldiers and their families to have the answers to worrisome questions like who to call in the case of an emergency and who will cover the family's health insurance.
About 70 people listened to the family briefing, which lasted about four hours and covered services for military families. The briefing was followed by lunch and a family day.
Paul Goodwin of Lawrence, Mass., attended the briefing with his girlfriend and his mother, Shelli Goodwin, of Amesbury, Mass.
"The more information we have, the better," Shelli Goodwin said, though she already knows a lot of the ins and outs because she works at a veterans outreach center. He said he thought the briefing would "put people's minds at ease."
Joe Tweedy of Londonderry thought much of the briefing was directed at married soldiers with children. That information didn't apply to his 20-year-old daughter Courtney, who is single. Tweedy said he and wife Sheryl picked up some information about how to send packages to his daughter overseas, however.
"We're very proud of her," he said, but added that he and his wife were "very much surprised" when she enlisted. The Londonderry High graduate was pursuing a career as an interior designer when she decided to join the military. Tweedy said his daughter volunteered to go with this unit even though she was originally assigned to a different battalion.
Courtney Tweedy, an Army mechanic, said she will work on "wheeled vehicles." Her father did teach her how to tune up her own car and do some car repairs, she said.
Seth McAllister of Derry, who also leaves for Iraq in October with the 167th, thought the family briefings were helpful for his parents and wife Kristi.
McAllister, 23, moved to Derry about eight months ago because his wife, a Pinkerton Academy graduate, has lived there for eight years.
He said he wasn't sure if his wife will stay in Derry while he's on active duty.
"We haven't worked that out yet," he said. But the couple laughed when asked if he was relieved to know she would have someone to contact if the car broke down while he was away.
"Bad example," he said, because in reality, his wife is the one who deals with the car repairs.
"I may have changed a couple of tires," he said. "But I'm not help with cars. I call Triple A."
McAllister said he signed up for the Army three years ago this October.
"I was just kind of bored with my life," he said. "I didn't like the way my life was going at that time. I needed a change in direction. This worked out for me."
This will also be the first deployment to Iraq for Ricardo Rivera of Haverhill, Mass. The 25-year-old is not married and doesn't have children. He enlisted because he wanted to earn money to pay for his education.
He will be an information technology specialist in Iraq, working on computer technical support. Asked if yesterday's presentation, which included information about post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, made the upcoming deployment seem more dangerous, he said he thought the information would be helpful for his parents, brothers and sisters.
Rivera said he expects a few butterflies in his stomach as the departure date draws near.
"My buddies will get me through it," he said, before adding, "Wait for us. We'll be back soon."
Although the departure date is still a few weeks away, the Army wanted to help the soldiers prepare for the transition from civilian to military life and let their families know what kind of support they can expect while their loved ones are away, Heater said. He said there are soldiers from Maine to Virginia in the 167th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.