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E.J. Montini began writing news columns for The Arizona Republic shortly before the first governor in state history was impeached, continued doing so as another governor was indicted and resigned, and has carried on over 25 years through out-of-control urban sprawl, unchecked illegal immigration, increasing daily temperatures, decreasing rainfall and recession. Coincidence?

Posted on February 1, 2013 10:45 am by EJ Montini

We gossip and bicker; they serve

Over the past several weeks, while the rest of us argued about gun control, bickered about immigration and jabbered about the Super Bowl or the Golden Globes, Lt. George Lopez has been quietly telling people that he was about to be deployed to Afghanistan

“For a lot of them it was like they didn’t believe it,” Lopez said. “I would hear things like, ‘Are we still sending people over there? I thought we were almost done.’”

We’re still sending people.

And as long as we are still sending people we are not almost done.

Last weekend, 100 or so members of the 819th Engineer Company (Sappers) of the Arizona Army National Guard departed for Fort Bliss, Texas, where they will train for about a month before shipping out to Afghanistan.

“Sappers” are combat engineers. Over the course of many wars they have done everything from building bridges to serving on patrols to clearing roads of landmines and improvised explosive devices.

Some of the solders in the 819th have been deployed before. This will be Lt. Lopez’s first trip. He is a platoon leader.

“I’ll have about 35 guys in my unit,” he told me. “I’ll be planning missions under the supervision of the officers above us. We’ll do route clearance. We’ll help transportation. Help infantry. We make sure that there are no bombs on a route. It all depends on what is needed.”

We don’t hear often about the war.

It was a non-issue in last year’s presidential election campaign.

Imagine that. A war as a non-issue.

At the same time, according to local officials, more than 500 Arizona Army and Air National Guard members are serving in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Horn of Africa, and within the continental U.S.

A lot of them are like Lt. Lopez.

He is 25 years old. He was born and raised in Phoenix. He graduated from St. Mary’s High School and Arizona State University, where he was a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

“We knew in the program that we probably would be deployed,” Lopez said. “It’s what you train for. You prepare yourself for it. But it can still be hard on your family.”

Lopez is newly married. His wife is from Texas. The couple recently moved there so that she could be close to her family while he is away.

“It can be tough on families having a soldier deployed,” he said. “In my unit there are police officers, firefighters, lots of people from lots of different professions who will be missing from their families and their jobs for a year or so. It’s what we all signed up for. You try to prepare as best you can, and to prepare those you leave back here.”

That preparation works well for a lot of people. But not necessarily for a soldier’s mother.

“My mom is taking all this a little bit harder,” Lt. Lopez said. “I am her youngest. Me and my wife did what we had to do. We have taken care of things financially. We have prepared. We’ve talked. And my mom understands what’s going on. She had a brother in the military. And her father, too. But it’s a little rougher with a son, I guess.”

Information on Arizona’s National Guard can be found at You can find information there on things like the guard’s family readiness program, which helps the loved ones of deployed soldiers.

There was a time in our decade-long war that everyone in the country shared the interest and the anxiety of military families. But that has past. It’s seems now that the war concerns only those who have someone serving in harm’s way.

Even so, soldiers like Lt. Lopez don’t begrudge us our disinterest.

“We have better communication now,” Lopez said. “I’ll communicate with my family. My parents are not too big on technology but I made sure that they set up Skype so we could talk online.”
No matter how prepared and professional he may be as a soldier, Lopez is also a son. And moms, well, they worry.

(Column for Feb. 1. 2013, Arizona
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