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Army captain savors break from duty
By CHRIS ENGLISH
Bucks County Courier Times


A few days ago, Army Capt. Tina Fonde was sleeping on a cot, crossing her fingers for hot water and helping Iraqis rebuild their homes and schools while also wondering whether any one of them was packing a concealed grenade.

Yesterday, with the love of her family lifting her spirits and turkey and the trimmings filling her stomach, Fonde had a new appreciation for Thanksgiving and the sudden shifts in her life.

"It's definitely culture shock," said Fonde, 25, from the family house on North Clearview Avenue in Middletown. "The first night I got home [Monday], I slept in a real bed for the first time in 10 months. You just kind of experience every kind of emotion being home again. It's been incredible."

One of the more incredible things has been seeing her younger brother, 22-year-old Joseph Fonde, again. A lance corporal in the Marines, he was stationed in Kuwait during the Iraqi war and last saw his sister when they were able to meet briefly at a Kuwaiti base in February.

Joseph Fonde was able to visit home when he returned to the United States a few weeks ago. He's now stationed at a base in Yuma, Ariz., and will go back there on Dec. 10, the same day his sister begins her journey back to Iraq.

Yesterday their brothers, Tim and Ken, joined the two soldiers, Tim's wife and their parents, Joseph and Eileen Fonde, for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

"It's beyond words, it's just wonderful," said the elder Joseph Fonde on seeing his entire family together again. "They're all adults now, but they're still our children. The only unfortunate thing is knowing Tina has to go back to Iraq."

Tina Fonde crossed into Iraq from Kuwait with her Army unit, The Third Corps Support Command, on March 23, three days after the war started, and has been there ever since.

During the war, she coordinated, participated in and helped track supply convoys. Since June, soon after major combat ended, she's been working closely with the Army's Civil Affairs Division to help rebuild and improve Iraq's infrastructure, such as roads, homes and schools. Her duties include helping to award rebuilding contracts to Iraqi businesses.

"It's been very rewarding," she said. "We rebuilt three schools in one area, and helped bring water to another by building a system that drew it from the Euphrates River. If you watch the news, you don't see the good things being done over there. The media will talk about the two soldiers killed on a particular day, but not the three schools rebuilt or improved on the same day. I think about 99 percent of the Iraqi people are glad we're over there."

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Fonde believes in the U.S. mission in Iraq. Still, with hundreds of soldiers killed in ambushes and suicide attacks since the actual war ended, she is always on guard.

"I've been close to where things have happened, but always in a pretty secure area, so I've been lucky," said Fonde, who was promoted to captain last month. "You always have to be in a more aggressive mindset. As wonderful as the Iraqi people are, I have a hard time completely trusting them. You never know what they have underneath their dress."

After sleeping on cots and in trucks, eating more than her share of MREs [Meals Ready to Eat] and A-rations and taking showers with flip-flops on to prevent catching a foot fungus, Fonde said it's the little things you think about when contemplating home.

"I promised myself one of the first three things I'd do when I got home was take a walk in the grass in my bare feet, flush a real toilet and take a shower without flip-flops on," said Fonde, a 1996 Neshaminy High School graduate. "I did them all."

After her return to Iraq on Dec. 10, Fonde will be there until March or April, she said. Until then, memories from her 15-day Thanksgiving leave will suffice.

"The coolest thing happened even before I got home," she said. "On the flight over, I sat next to a guy I graduated from high school with [Ryan Miller]. He's with the Army over in Iraq, too."

For more information on Tina and Joseph Fonde, including pictures of them on duty in Iraq and Kuwait, visit the Fonde family Web site at http://www.joefonde.com/.

Chris English can be reached at 215-949-4193 or cenglish@phillyBurbs.com.

November 28, 2003 6:47 AM
 



This Marine can't wait to salute his sister

By CHRIS ENGLISH
Bucks County Courier Times
 

 
A lance corporal in the Marines, Joseph Fonde is kidded about having to salute his older sister, Tina, an Army lieutenant.

Despite the ribbing, he can't wait for the next salute. He only wishes he knew when it would be.
Joseph Fonde is back home in Middletown on a three-week leave after a five-month stint in Kuwait and Iraq. His sister still is overseas, patrolling Iraq in the aftermath of the war. She might not be home until December.

"I had arranged to meet her when we were both over there and it was before the war started," said Joseph, wearing a Phillies hat and relaxing at the kitchen table of the Fondes' house on North Clearview Avenue.

"I saw her for about two or three hours," he said. "Before that, I hadn't seen her for two years, and who knows when I'll see her again. When she gets home, I might not be on leave."

The family is on a kind of emotional pendulum these days, swinging one way with happiness at Joseph's return, and back the other with continued apprehension over Tina's extended stay in Iraq.

Despite that, Joseph, 21, is enjoying his time at home before he has to report to the Yuma, Ariz., Marine base July 29. He likes the good home cooking, catching up with family and friends, and spending a free day at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg as part of the Busch Entertainment Company's Operation Salute.

"It was a little bit of shock when I first got back to the States," said Fonde. "I was in Yuma for three weeks before coming here, and it was weird seeing people other than Marines, going out to dinner and sleeping in a bed instead of a cot."

Fonde spent most of his time overseas at Camp Coyote in Kuwait, fixing radar equipment and helping guide aircraft on combat missions. He made two brief forays into Iraq, one to a village just inside the border to hand out food and water to Iraqi citizens, and the other to a spot near Baghdad to assist two officers on a routine mission.

The war went better than he expected, and he hasn't been too surprised at the difficulties U.S. troops have encountered since major combat ended.

"There's going to be pockets of resistance," said Fonde. "That could mean just an Iraqi citizen who blends into a crowd, sees a U.S. soldier and decides to cap him. There's really nothing we can do about some of these things. The only thing I can say is everyone has to be vigilant over there and pay attention to their surroundings."

Fonde was happy to hear about the deaths of Saddam Hussein's two sons, Odai and Qusai, and believes Saddam is dead too.

"I think we got him on that very first night," said Fonde. "I think the stuff you hear about him still being alive are just rumors started by some Iraqis to make us look bad."

Like her brother, 25-year-old Tina Fonde arrived in the war zone last January, but her stay has been longer. She has spent almost the entire time in Iraq, said Joseph and Tina's father, also named Joseph.

"She's a maintenance officer in charge of a group of people who take care of the vehicles," said the senior Fonde. "We get e-mails from her [including a recent photo of Tina in full combat gear], but she can't say a lot about exactly where she is or what she is doing. The last we knew, she was somewhere near Baghdad. I know she is constantly part of these supply convoys that re-supply our soldiers."

Almost daily news reports about U.S. soldiers getting killed in Iraq bring jolts to the nervous system, said Tina's dad.

"Not long ago, she was in a convoy that was hit in an RPG [rocketed propelled grenade] attack," he said. "The spot where it was hit was well ahead of where Tina was in the convoy, and there were injuries but no deaths in that particular attack. Still, there's a lot of worry. When there's an attack, you're always grateful to hear it wasn't your child, but it's somebody's child, and you feel pain for the other parents."

Joseph and Eileen Fonde are proud of their two children in the military. Both children have indicated they might make it a career.

"Tina will probably get promoted to captain in November and her enlistment runs out next April," said her father. "She's 50-50 on re-enlisting."

His son is leaning even more toward staying in for the long haul.

"My current enlistment is up in two years, and I'll definitely re-enlist for another three or four years," said the younger Joseph. "I can see myself making it a career. If I do, I might learn to fly airplanes and I'll definitely try to be an officer. There's not as many people telling you what to do."

Eileen Fonde said an extensive support system has helped the family deal with anxiety.

"I would like to thank everyone who has kept Tina and Joe and the whole family in their prayers," she said. "Not only our family and friends, but co-workers and even people who shop where I work [Clemens supermarket in Middletown] have been so supportive, and that has helped me get through this."

More information and pictures of the two Fonde soldiers are available at www.joefonde.com.

Chris English can be reached at 215-949-4193 or cenglish@phillyBurbs.com.

 


Family Shoulders Double War Worry
By CHRIS ENGLISH
Bucks County Courier Times

Anxiety over the war in Iraq is a common ailment across the country these days.  For families with a member serving in the war, nerves are even more jangled.  And then there are households like the Fonde domain in Middletown, where it's worry - but also pride - times two.

Joseph and Eileen Fonde, of Clearview Avenue, have two children serving in the conflict. Their son Joseph, 21, is a Marine lance corporal somewhere in Kuwait and daughter Tina, 24, is an Army lieutenant who could be in either Kuwait or Iraq.  "She was at Camp Udari in Kuwait, but called Sunday [March 23] to say they were moving north but Click here for a full size picturenot to worry," said Eileen Fonde. "She had just learned to drive a hummer [humvee], and we kind of assumed that north meant into Iraq, but she didn't say. I told her I hoped she was in a safe place, and she said there is no real safe place and that everyone should be praying for them. That's the last we heard from her."

The Fondes believe their children have more of a support role and aren't involved in direct combat. However, they also know about the unpredictable nature of the Iraqi war -the possibility of Scud missile and chemical attacks and all the rest - and realize Tina's words to her mother about no safe place ring true.  "I think Tina is involved in vehicle maintenance or supervising maintenance crews, and she probably moves into an area once it's a little more secure," Eileen said. "We believe Joseph is involved in communication, fixing computers on airplanes or troubleshooting computers.   "But it's constant worry, every time a special report comes on television. Sometimes, we have to switch off the war and onto regular programming. Otherwise, it would be hard to sleep."

Joseph and Tina Fonde, who are both single, have been in Kuwait since January, their mother said.  Click here for a full size picture"They got a chance to visit each other a little while after they got there," she said. "It was the first time they had seen each other in two years. Just before she went to Kuwait, Tina was asked to choose a weapon, and she chose an M-16. Knowing Joseph, he chose the biggest gun possible."  Joseph graduated from Neshaminy High School in 2000, four years after his sister, and enlisted in the Marines just a few months later. He had always been interested in the military, talking of someday being in the Navy Seals [the Navy's special operations unit] or flying an F-18 jet fighter, his parents said.  "I really wanted one of my children to do military service," said the elder Joseph Fonde, a former Navy reservist. "I thought it would be good for the education, experience and discipline, and Joe needed that."

But Tina's enlistment shortly after getting an accounting degree from the University of Scranton in Click here for a full size picture2000 was much more of a surprise, according to her parents.   "She's just a little thing, about 4 feet 10, and she loved playing soccer at Neshaminy," Eileen said. "I always thought she would end up in a sports-related field, but she enrolled in ROTC at Scranton, and I guess she just got more and more interested in military service."  The Fondes have two other children. Their oldest son, Tim, 28, lives in Coatesville with his wife, Trish, and is sports editor at the Times Herald in Norristown. The youngest Fonde, 19-year-old Ken, is a freshman at the Penn State Berks campus in Reading.  They get regular e-mails from Joseph in Kuwait. They also have a mailing address for him, but it doesn't say which camp he's in. The family said they know it's not Camp Pennsylvania, where the grenade attack happened, because that's an Army camp.  "He said he can't say much in the e-mails," said Eileen. "He just tells us thanks for the packages, he loves us and will tell us everything when he gets home."  Tina Fonde has a cell phone, but her mother isn't sure how much she's able to use it.  The family thinks Joseph and Tina are participating in a just cause. Their father is generally satisfied with progress in the war, but believes the coalition practice of trying so hard to avoid Iraqi civilian deaths might result in more U.S. and British troops getting killed.  "I watched this country go through Vietnam, and I see us being a little too passive," he said. "This approach we're using may come at more cost to us. I think the soldiers should have more freedom to do what they need to do and not worry about the repercussions. I mean, let's cut the crap."  All the Fondes are confident of eventual victory.  "There are constant updates on the war on TV, so maybe we tend to overreact to some things, but we're 50 miles from Baghdad and, overall, I think it's going well," said Tim Fonde, who hopes to see his brother and sister again in a few months.  "The last time I heard from them, they expected to be over there until July or August," he said. "I hope we get some time to spend with them before they go on to their next stop."  Meanwhile, the worry continues.  "Every time I hear about a missile being launched or a grenade being thrown into a tent, I think about my children," Joseph said. "Watching the television can get overwhelming, and a little surreal at times. It's like you're watching a John Wayne movie on TV or something, and then all of a sudden reality sets in. You realize your children are over there, and you don't want to see something disturbing."

Chris English can be reached at 215-949-4193 or cenglish@phillyBurbs.com.

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