Article - Office of College Advancement

Ohlone trustee back from Iraq

By Angela Woodall, Staff writer.

Sunday, December 31, 2006—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

Fremont—Ohlone College trustee Garrett Yee barely has had time to unpack since he returned in early December from Iraq.

Yee, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, is just trying to readjust to civilian life after five months in a war zone where nearly 3,000 U.S. soldiers and many thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed.

"There are 150,000 U.S. service members in Iraq, and each one will have their own issues to wrestle with," Yee said.

In Iraq, Yee wrestled most with feeling helpless when domestic issues erupted at home.

"You can't do anything from (7,500) miles away," Yee said.

His wife, Maria Vera-Yee, had to juggle work and caring for the couple's two youngest children, Michael, 15, and Alissa, 13.

Their oldest son, Gilbert Yee, 20, is a student at San Francisco State University.

"Even though Maria understood and tried to shield me from problems at home, she couldn't shield me from everything," Yee said.

The stress "builds over time," he added. "Instead of getting easier, it gets harder, because when you're in a war zone (your family) can't help but worry."

The frequent phone calls and e-mails Yee sent were a relief, Vera-Yee said.

"I would go back and forth," she said, recalling the anxiety that cost her many hours of sleep.

Tired or not, she had to do the work of two parents while her husband was gone.

"I was just trying to get through the day like everyone else," she said.

The experience is common, said Diana Layfield, whose son, Lance Cpl. Travis Layfield, died in Iraq.

"Your mind is in Iraq," said Layfield,a member of the Castro Valley-based military family support group Operation Mom.

"There are a lot of sleepless nights. You worry so much. You can't eat, can't sleep, can't focus."

Yee's son Michael said he coped by keeping busy and "not dwelling" on the fact that his father was in Iraq.

"I didn't want him to worry about me worrying about him," he said.

His sister said she tried to avoid news accounts of the "bad things going on there."

Support and care packages poured in to Yee and his family from all directions. Even strangers sent him words of encouragement, Yee said.

"It made it feel like what you're doing is worthwhile and OK," he said.

Even as Yee tries to make up for the time away, he is adjusting to a daily life that doesn't revolve around "life-or-death issues," as the case was in Iraq.

"Everything felt very important because people are dying," Yee said.

After the 26 months of active service, since 2003, Yee will go on reserve status Thursday, the day he and his wife celebrate their 21st wedding anniversary.

There is a remote possibility Yee could be called back to Iraq, but "it's unlikely," he said.

"It's very difficult emotionally, but while you're there it's the most important thing," Yee said of military service. "Back home, the most important thing is to be with my family."

Staff writer Angela Woodall covers Newark and Ohlone College. She can be reached at (510) 353-7004 or at awoodall@angnewspapers.com.

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