Wife welcomes heroes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Geni Smith is the happiest lady in Helena.

She has a good reason. Two weeks ago, she saw her husband, J.D. Smith, for the first time in 15 months.

J.D. had returned home from Iraq, where he served as a Chief Warrant Officer 5 with the Mississippi National Guard Reserves.

His return was reason enough for friends and family to celebrate and offer extra prayers of gratitude.

&uot;It was wonderful to see his face,&uot; Geni said.

J.D. wasn’t the only family member returning home from Iraq, though.

His daughter Katherine Smith, who is also a warrant officer with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves in Kentucky, came home as well – on the same weekend.

&uot;I was proud of her doing her job,&uot; J.D. said.

&uot;I don’t think I had heard of a father-daughter combination,&uot; Geni adds.

Katherine flew in to Camp Pendleton, Calif., and will not see her father and stepmother until next month, when the family gathers for a reunion.

It’s bound to be some kind of meeting.

Patriotism is in this family’s blood.

Both of J.D.’s grandfathers served in World War I, and his father served in World War II. So did Geni’s father.

In fact, both J.D. and Geni are veterans.

He’s a pilot with more than 30 years of military experience. She’s a nurse who once was a major in the Army.

It was a match made in Biloxi, Miss., where they crossed paths while serving.

&uot;The military was the reason we met each other,&uot; Geni said.

They married 23 years ago.

During that time, he never served an extended overseas tour – until Iraq.

That was nerve-racking enough for a loving wife.

Then, Katherine left.

Katherine, who is a CID officer in Berkley, Calif., decided several years ago to follow in her father’s footsteps.

&uot;We’ve parachuted together. We’ve had some fun experiences in the military,&uot; he said.

They only saw each other a few times while in Iraq.

After she arrived, they met long enough to eat a couple of meals together.

They also saw each other Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas.

&uot;He hijacked his way on some helicopter,&uot; Geni half-quipped.

But father-daughter time was rare. They served in the southern portion of the Sunni Triangle, which is among the most dangerous places in Iraq.

J.D. served in Baghdad, while Katherine served near Ramadi. Fallujah was a short distance from both of them.

&uot;We were both too busy,&uot; J.D. said.

E-mails and occasional phone calls were the only communication Geni had with either J.D. or Katherine.

&uot;We would email every day, except for the convoys,&uot; she said.

When he was part of a convoy, it could be two weeks before husband and wife talked.

&uot;I almost went nuts,&uot; she said.

Friends, family and faith all helped Geni cope. She did her part to support her loved ones, by making sure every mailbox on her street had a yellow ribbon.

J.D. says things are getting better in Iraq.

&uot;The people are very supportive-the majority of them&uot; he said.

Coalition forces continue to build rapport with the Iraqis with &uot;Operation Candy Drop&uot; and other projects.

&uot;We’ve put thousands of soccer balls out. Every town has a soccer field,&uot; J.D. said.

More importantly, Iraqi schools are opening, and the power is on in many places. That is particularly important, since many Iraqis sleep during the day (when temperatures can near 140 degrees) and leave their homes at night.

&uot;Now virtually the whole country is lit,&uot; J.D. said. &uot;It’s fabulous to see at night.&uot;

Geni offered support from home throughout the months. She laughs about one request J.D. made.

An avid Auburn football fan, he asked her to send an orange and blue flag overseas. Before sending the flag, she contacted the Auburn University Athletic Department, and asked if Coach Tommy Tuberville would sign the flag.

A short time later, J.D. received a package from Auburn. The first thing he noticed on the flag was Tuberville’s signature.

He kept up with Auburn’s 13-0 season. That meant watching or listening to football games in the wee hours of the morning.

The family jokes that J.D.’s overseas’ service may have given the Tigers some good karma.

&uot;If that’s what it takes for them to have a perfect season, I may have to ship him back over to Kuwait,&uot; she said.

Life is getting back to normal for the family, now.

J.D.’s first meal after returning home was at the Cullman Cracker Barrel. Katherine will soon return to her job in Berkley.

The family played a role in helping free a nation.

&uot;We really made a big difference,&uot; J.D. said, referring to all the Coalition forces that have served.

Geni is thankful two of her loved ones are home.

&uot;We sure were lucky.&uot;

Patrick Johnston serves as staff writer for the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at mailto:patrick.johnston@shelbycountyreporter.com.