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Published: Sunday, 3/23/2003

Area service members respond to call to duty

BY JOE MAHR
AND GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
While Marine reservist Cpl. Lance Kokensparger, in portrait, is fighting Iraq, his son, in foreground, Max, 3; wife, Barb, and daughter, Hali, 8, along with his sister, Jennette, 13; father, Larry; mother, Kathy, and sister, Jessica, 16, offer support at home. While Marine reservist Cpl. Lance Kokensparger, in portrait, is fighting Iraq, his son, in foreground, Max, 3; wife, Barb, and daughter, Hali, 8, along with his sister, Jennette, 13; father, Larry; mother, Kathy, and sister, Jessica, 16, offer support at home.
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Lance Kokensparger of Delta overcame a broken neck.

Monroe's Dustin Bussell overcame a difficult childhood.

Toledoan James Campbell has gone from a college classroom to the frontline.

Sylvania's Brett Czaja has remained in a war zone so others don't have to go.

They are among the 250,000 members of the U.S. armed forces sent to fight a high-tech, live-from-the-battlefield war unlike any other in American history.

The force breaks down into regulars and reservists, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, business owners and factory workers.

Left behind are their wives and husbands. Parents and children.

Some have postponed marriages. Others will miss the births of their children and the funerals of loved ones.

Some may not return home.

This thought, above all others, has their families fretting every day that passes without a long-distance call or transatlantic e-mail. It's a thought shared around the country as well as here in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Local service members in the regular branches are joined by reserve units such as the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing based at Toledo Express Airport in Swanton, Toledo's 323rd Military Police Company, and Tiffin's 79th Quartermaster Company. A majority of their members come from the area, while some live hours away.

Each has a story.

And a common mission.

Cpl. Lance Kokensparger has every excuse not to be where he is today.

Two years ago, on a rural Fulton County road, he was thrown from his out-of-control pickup as it flipped over in a farm field. He broke his neck in two places.

Cpl. Lance Kokensparger sustained a broken neck in an auto accident in 2001. Cpl. Lance Kokensparger sustained a broken neck in an auto accident in 2001.
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A simple note from his doctors would have allowed the father of two to avoid his Marine Corps Reserve duty. The doctors were willing; the corps understanding.

But Corporal Kokensparger, of Delta, underwent surgery and completed intense physical therapy. He then rejoined his unit. His wife, Barb, wasn't surprised.

“He had always wanted to be a Marine, and he wasn't going to let anything - especially a broken neck - stand in his way,” she said.

Her husband is now in Kuwait with 83 other members of his unit - Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines.

The 31-year-old Springfield High School graduate followed family tradition. His step-grandfather was a Marine in Vietnam. His father served in the Marine Corps Reserve in the first Gulf War.

So five years ago, Corporal Kokensparger joined the unit in Perrysburg Township that specializes in destroying enemy tanks. He's considered the unit expert in identifying different types of tanks, and even made a CD now used as a teaching tool by the Marines at Camp Pendleton.

But his fate changed after the accident in April, 2001. Hauled from the scene by an emergency medical helicopter, he spent a week in the hospital, where surgeons fused his neck together.

During physical therapy, he did twice as much as they asked, his wife said. In two months, he went back to work in the laboratory of Midwest Product Finishing, where he tests chemicals used to help paint auto parts.

He rejoined his Marine unit last spring, completing a recovery that amazed his family, said his mother, Kathy Goans.

“He has the will to be a Marine and to fight for the country and to fight for what he believes is right,” she said.

As he flew to Kuwait on Monday, Corporal Kokensparger called his wife, told her he loved her, and said the troops' spirits were high. His voice didn't show any signs of regret.

“Not Lance,” his wife said. “He was ready to go.”

Not that it's been easy at home. His 8-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy ask for daddy every day. Barb helps them cope by writing letters and coloring pictures to be sent to him. As for her, she credits the support of family, friends, and his co-workers and bosses.

They're not sure what he's doing now. Barb said she watches TV coverage only when the kids are asleep, and even then not for too long.

“It's too much,” she said. “You just have to turn it off and hope for the best.”

Sleepless nights. Anxious days.

That's been Patricia Campbell's life since she learned her son, Pfc. James Campbell, was shipped from Germany to Kuwait several weeks ago.

Pvt. James Campbell is a Rogers High School graduate and a part-time computer assistant. Pvt. James Campbell is a Rogers High School graduate and a part-time computer assistant.
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Private Campbell, a 22-year-old Rogers High School graduate, had been a reservist under the U.S. Army's 19th Corps Material Management Center and a part-time computer systems student at Owens Community College until he was called to active duty Jan. 23.

“We talked positive things,” she said of their last night together. “I asked him how he felt about it. He said, `I signed up for it. It's my responsibility. That's what I have to do.'”

Private Campbell left the next day for Fort Snelling, Minn. Since then, Ms. Campbell has kept in touch with her son by e-mail, the most recent of which she received Thursday night as the American offensive into Iraq began.

“He told me he hears a lot of bombs and some of the fighting that's going on,” Ms. Campbell said.

Though her son can't disclose his location, she knows he's sleeping in a tent in the Kuwaiti desert, that he often dons cumbersome chemical warfare gear, and that he's part of a support team for ground troops that are now deep in Iraq.

She said he frets about his bills not being paid. His mother tells him she's taking care of things and that he has more important matters to consider.

Ms. Campbell tries to avoid TV news, but the images of war are everywhere she goes. The report of several Iraqi missiles intercepted en route to Kuwait at midweek increased her apprehension.

She copes through prayer with friends at the First Church of God on Collingwood Boulevard, where Private Campbell serves as a youth leader.

Her spirituality makes it difficult for her to support a war.

“I hate to see people get killed. Do two wrongs make a right?” she said.

Yet, now that the war is on she has a different perspective.

“I support the country because I live here. My son made a decision to do this, so I'll pray on it until he returns,” she said.

As Ms. Campbell sought a photograph of her son Friday night in her central Toledo home, her mother, Bessie Simmons, watched the latest news from Iraq. She had one son serve in Vietnam and another in the Special Forces. She is not thrilled about her grandson's journey to Kuwait.

“I've had enough of war; I'm tired of it,” Mrs. Simmons said.

Sgt. Dustin Bussell learned in February that he'd be meeting the President in a special White House banquet to honor the nation's best Marines.

Three days later, the Monroe native was told he was going to Kuwait, to cope with blinding sandstorms, hot days, cold nights, limited water, and the threat of war.

His wife, Rosa, has no doubt which of the two settings he'd prefer.

Sgt. Dustin Bussell, the Second Marine Division's noncommissioned officer of the year, is scheduled to meet President Bush in a special White House banquet to honor the nation's best Marines. Sgt. Dustin Bussell, the Second Marine Division's noncommissioned officer of the year, is scheduled to meet President Bush in a special White House banquet to honor the nation's best Marines.
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“He would rather be there than meeting the President, anyway,” she said. “He wants to help people who can't help themselves.”

His Second Marine Division unit is now fighting with the First Marine Division in Iraq - offering the first combat experience for the 23-year-old Jefferson High School graduate.

Sergeant Bussell never had it easy. His mom and dad divorced when he was 11. His dad died of cancer six years later. Sergeant Bussell became a father himself at age 17, and the extra responsibilities extended his high school career by two years.

But his family said he persevered, and by the time he graduated he had a blueprint for life: the Marines. His twin brother, Derrick, had already joined the corps after his graduation, and Dustin wanted to emulate him.

Sergeant Bussell joined an amphibious assault unit - the people who drive the land/ sea vehicles that ferry dozens of troops from boat to shore, and can later take part in land attacks.

In January, he was named his division's non-commissioned officer-of-the-year.

A week-and-a-half later, he found out the award carried the honor of the White House visit, to be joined by his wife. The banquet is set for April. The Marines may fly Mrs. Bussell there or delay the festivities because of the war, she said.

She talked to him twice by phone before the war began. She and their children, a 6-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, frequently write their father letters. Sure, the sandstorms are rough and “water is like gold,” he told his family, but before the war he told her the troops' morale remained high.

“He said everybody was just ready to fulfill their mission, clean it up, and bring it home,” she said.

She and the rest of the family remain proud, albeit worried over his safety and whether Derrick, stationed in Japan, will join his brother in Iraq.

Their mother, Paula Toburen, spends her mornings and nights watching TV war coverage.

“This is driving me crazy,” she said. “I'm not happy that he's there, but I'm glad we have servicemen like him.”

In 1999, Brett Czaja of Sylvania was a second-year business student at Wright State University, having a good time but unclear about his future.

Brett Czaja, left, and members of the 180th Fighter Wing are serving in the Middle East. Brett Czaja, left, and members of the 180th Fighter Wing are serving in the Middle East.
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A revelation of sorts brought about a life-altering decision that stunned his parents.

“He said he was looking for direction and [that he was] going to join the military,” said Brett's father, Fred Czaja, a Sylvania Township firefighter.

Yearning to be a pilot, Brett Czaja decided to join the Air National Guard's Swanton-based 180th Fighter Wing. For two years he was a part-time member of the wing's security forces and continued his studies at Wright State.

Then Sept. 11, 2001, happened and Brett Czaja found himself a full-time guardsman. The senior airman 1st class served stints in South Carolina and Kyrgyzstan, where he helped protect Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during Mr. Rumsfeld's visit.

On Oct. 30, Airman Czaja and an unspecified number of other 180th Fighter Wing members left for an undisclosed location in the Middle East, where he has remained.

His parents have remained in touch by phone, but he tells them little.

“We talked with him [last] Sunday,” said Mr. Czaja. “His spirits were up. [But] it's difficult talking with him. My wife will ask him `What about this and what about that' and he'll say, `Mom, I can't tell you that stuff.' We talk about the weather. The sandstorms have been just tremendous. He said you can't see anything. And he said it's very cold at night in the desert.”

As Mr. Czaja and his wife, Tedi, follow the war, he admits there are moments of fear.

“Yeah, I'm anxious, and my wife obviously is nervous. But we think he's well-prepared and well-trained,” Mr. Czaja said.

He bristles at the mention of the many anti-war protests around the country and the blue and white “No War” yard signs that have sprung up outside some homes around Toledo and its suburbs.

“When people do things like that, I feel it's a personal thing against my son. He's willing to do whatever it takes. All these people have to do is support him,” he said.

Mr. Czaja said his son could have been home by now, but signed up for a second overseas stint.

Airman Czaja told his family he's single while other members of his unit have spouses and children to worry about.

“That's just the type of guy he is,” Mr. Czaja said. “Brett said, `Maybe when I'm a parent someone will do something for me.' I thought `Wow! This guy has really matured from the kid I knew in college.' I give him a lot of credit for that.”



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