Local families gather to hear loved ones’ fate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Olie Elfer, wife of Capt. John Elfer with the Military Police, and their daughter, Alli, watch as President Bush addresses the nation on television Monday night. With them are Sherry Riggs, wife of Sgt. Jeff Riggs with the 168th Engineer Group and daughters, Kayla and Stephanie.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[3/18/03]Olie Elfer talked to her husband, on duty in Kuwait, about 3 p.m. Vicksburg time Monday. They expected President Bush to deliver the ultimatum that he delivered hours later.

“I said, Is this it?'” Elfer said.

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And John Elfer, patrolling Warren County roads as a deputy sheriff just days ago, responded, “This is it.”

Family members here said Monday that they’ve been able to talk with reservists called to duty over the past several weeks. They said they know that might stop if the shooting starts.

About 296 members of the Army serving with Vicksburg-based units of the Mississippi National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves have been called to active duty. They are among about 4,489 from the state, giving Mississippi the fourth-highest proportion among the 50 states of personnel mobilized per 10,000 members of eligible population.

Chris Naylor, whose wife of five months, Vicksburg police officer Trina Kimble Naylor, is in Kuwait as a truck driver with a Brookhaven-based unit, said he had spoken with her Monday.

“She said it’s really hot in the daytime,” Naylor said, adding that she had been sleeping in her truck instead of her tent due to nighttime cold in the desert and the threat of scorpions in her tent. “She said as far as you can see it’s just desert.”

Naylor is one of five Warren County residents among the 85 from the 386th Transportation Company, Sgt. Jacqueline Gatson said from its headquarters Monday.

“They’ll be transporting equipment and supplies back and forth from the base to the front lines,” Gatson said, adding that they would be using trucks of other units. “They’ve used my unit as fill-ins” for other units mobilized within the eight-state command.

As Bush addressed the nation by television Monday night, six family members of Undersheriff Jeff Riggs and Deputy Elfer of the Warren County Sheriff’s Department gathered to watch.

Elfer is with a military police unit. Riggs, a master sergeant with the 168th Engineer Group who has been deployed to three previous military operations, was still at a base in Georgia. His wife, Sherry, said they talked Monday.

“He was fixing to find a TV and watch the president when he called,” she said, adding that Riggs knows he will be going overseas but does not know when or where.

Gatson said her unit’s truck drivers who had gone or were preparing to go overseas had received or were receiving training and equipment to help them resist any chemical or biological weapons that might be used by the Iraqis.

“They’re doing field exercises,” she said. “Some have had to receive 12 to 15 (vaccination) shots. They’re being reissued new equipment.” Gatson added that the soldiers took gas masks from their headquarters near Vicksburg High School and were having those masks properly fitted in preparation for war.

The entire 168th Engineer Group has been deployed. It and the 412th manage construction projects.

The 114th returned late last year from a yearlong deployment at Fort Campbell, Ky., and Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba, where its members had helped guard detainees in the war on terrorism. It was redeployed about two months after returning home.

About 58 of the 368th’s members, most of whom live in Natchez and Jackson, have not yet been called to duty, Gatson said. “If they need more drivers they’ll see what we have,” she said.

The American Red Cross’ Rolanda Grayer, whose organization verifies and relays vital communications between service personnel and their families, said the volume of such messages through the local office had remained steady at about six or seven a week. People with information such as family deaths or serious illnesses may call the Red Cross’ Military Family Services 24-hour line at 636-1286.