Sunday, March 9, 2003

Seven stars over Cleves:
Boyhood buddies in military

9-11 fostered friends' choices

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CLEVES - In this village of 2,200 between two rivers, the Great Miami and the Ohio, stars on velvet backgrounds hang in the windows of the homes of a half-dozen families.

Parents of Cleves' young servicemen hold their sons' photos: Back row: Patrice Huffman with son Nathan Rogers, Diane Hodge with son Dale Thomas, Vicki Schmalle with son Patrick Jr., and Marsha Martini with son Seth. Front row: Patrick Schmalle with son Michael and Mark Brooksbank with son Joseph.
(Mike Simons photo)
| ZOOM |
Six stars represent six young men, who, only a year ago, were boys about to graduate from Taylor High School. Their world then was one of Friday night football and Saturday night dates, of lunchrooms and study halls, of final exams and proms.

The seventh belongs to a brother just two years older.

There may soon be an eighth.

Michael Schmalle, Dale Thomas, Nathan Rogers, Joe Brooksbank, Seth Martini, and Jon Cordova - all from Taylor High School, all recent graduates, all friends since they were grade school children, and all today in armed services, serving a country that ison the brink of war. Soon, they will be joined by another, Kyle Workman, who is entering the Navy.

They all followed Michael's brother, Patrick Schmalle, who graduated from Taylor in 2000 and joined the U.S. Army, embarking on a journey that has taken him from Fort Hood, Texas, to deployment in the Persian Gulf.

"It's really unusual for Taylor - that many kids from one class going into the service," said school counselor Bob Goodridge, who knows all the boys well. "They were inspired."

  Hundreds of Tristate men and women in the U.S. armed forces are being deployed as the chance of war with Iraq increases. The Enquirer wants to tell the stories of those who serve, as well as the family left behind. If you are serving in the military, or if you have a family member overseas, and are willing to share your story, please contact reporter Howard Wilkinson.
  Telephone: (513) 768-8388
  Mail: Howard Wilkinson
  The Cincinnati Enquirer
  312 Elm St.
  Cincinnati, OH 45202.
Their parents - many of them friends from years of shuttling the boys to and from hundreds of football games, Knothole practices and school activities - believe they know what inspired their boys to jump from the familiar surroundings of high school and the comfort of loving homes to a world of daily drills and potential danger.

"They are all patriotic; they all love their country," said Patrick Schmalle Sr. He and his wife, Vicki, have two stars hanging in the window of their Cleves home - one for son Patrick and one for his younger brother, Michael.

In high school, some of the boys looked to Michael Schmalle for leadership and inspiration; he, in turn, looked to his older brother Patrick.

But, for each boy, an event that happened early in their senior year in high school shook their souls and forged their resolve to do something out of the ordinary for their country - the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

img • Age: 21
• Wife: Krystal Rice Schmalle of McGregor, Texas, married in December 2002
• Parents: Patrick and Vicki Schmalle, Cleves
• Class of 2000, Taylor High School.
• Varsity football player at Taylor all four years: team captain senior year.
• Joined the U.S. Army March 2001
• Private in the 2nd Chemical Battalion, 13th Corps Support Command, Fort Hood, Texas
That day, amid the grief and confusion that spread through the school, Michael Schmalle, then 17, went to teachers and administrators to see if a fund-raiser could be held to aid the victims of the terrorist attacks - especially the children who were left without fathers and mothers. He wanted to sell ribbons at a school open house scheduled for the next day that could be pinned to lapels as a reminder of those who lost their lives .

It couldn't be done, Michael was told.

The young man would not take no for an answer.

That night, Vicki Schmalle came home from work to find Michael and his girlfriend sitting on the floor in the family room, pinning together hundreds of small looped ribbons.

img • Age: 19
• Parents: Patrick and Vicki Schmalle, Cleves
• Played football at Taylor High School, worked as YMCA day camp counselor, organized fund-raiser at Taylor for children of 9-11 victims.
• Private in the U.S. Army, stationed in Baumholder, Germany, with the 1st Armored Division
"He said, `Mom, I've got to do something for these people,' " Mrs. Schmalle said. "He had tears in his eyes."

By the next day, he had recruited his buddies - Dale, Nathan, Seth, Joe and Jon - to help. At the school open house and in the weeks to come, the students raised well over $1,000 for a fund to help children of 9-11 victims.

"What Michael did was amazing," said Donna Elsen, the work and family life teacher at Taylor. "He is a remarkable young man."

Elsen has been keeping in touch with Michael Schmalle and Dale Thomas via e-mail.

img • Age: turns 19 on March 31
• Mother: Diane Hodge of Cleves
• Played football and ran track at Taylor High School.
• Private in the U.S. Army, stationed at Baumholder, Germany, with the 1st Armored Division.
• Works in battalion headquarters.
The two young men - best friends since early childhood - were went into the Army at the same time last summer and ended up posted together, with a unit stationed in Baumholder, Germany.

Joe Brooksbank went another direction - he joined the Air Force and is about to start a tour of duty in a military intelligence unit stationed in Japan.

Two others - Nathan Rogers and Jon Cordova - followed Michael and Dale into the Army and are at Fort Knox, Ky., now finishing basic training. Seth Martini is an airman serving at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

On one recent rainy Saturday afternoon, the parents of the young servicemen gathered at the home of the Schmalles on the outskirts of Cleves, for an afternoon of coffee, doughnuts, and laughter as they talked about their soldiers and airmen who, not so long ago, were riding bicycles through the neighborhood, playing hide-and-seek, being little boys.

img • Age: 20
• Parents: Mark and Kay Brooksbank, Cleves.
• Played football and was a wrestler at Taylor High School.
• Joined the U.S. Air Force one week after high school graduation in June 2002
• Airman stationed in Japan in operational intelligence.
Joe Brooksbank was there as well, with his father, Mark, a Navy veteran. The young airman had a few days at home before he had to ship out for Japan.

So, too, was yet another young man about to enter the service - Kyle Workman, who is about to be sworn into the Navy. He wants to become a Navy SEAL. Workman has been friends with the others all his life, even though he left Taylor after his sophomore year to enter Elder High School.

"You know what the word `Navy' stands for, don't you?" Mark Brooksbank said to the brand-new Navy recruit as they stood in the dining room of the Schmalle home, while several mothers looked and laughed at the pictures of their kids on the Schmalles' refrigerator door.

"Never Again Volunteer Yourself," Mr. Brooksbank said. The 18-year-old sailor-to-be laughed.

img • Age: 19
• Mother: Patrice Huffman, Cleves
• Played football and basketball at Taylor High School.
• Currently in U.S. Army basic training at Fort Knox, Ky.
Joe Brooksbank said he and the other young men have been "friends forever."

"We've known each other all our lives," Joe Brooksbank said. "We played ball together, hung out together. We're like brothers. I hope we always will be."

Most of the parents said they always believed that military service was an option their sons might consider, but said that, for each of them, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the war on terrorism that followed just cemented their determination to service.

"I think Dale always thought about it, but after 9-11, he and the other guys started talking about it more," said Diane Hodge, mother of Dale Thomas. "It makes me a little nervous, with the whole Iraq thing going on, but I know Dale. He will do what he has to do. And I am so very proud of him."

img • Age: 18
• Wife: Married his high school sweetheart, Heather Richardson, on Jan. 31, 2003
• Parents: Patrick and Marsha Martini, Miami Heights
• Played football and was a wrestler at Taylor High School.
• Airman, U.S. Air Force. Currently serving as surgical technician with 96th Med Ops Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Seth Martini, the young airman stationed in Florida, was back in Cleves briefly last month to marry his high school sweetheart - Heather Richardson. His mother, Marsha Martini, approved.

"I could see it coming, and even though they are going to have to start their marriage apart - and that is going to be hard - they will be OK," Marsha said. "He's a good kid. Just so young."

Patrice Huffman - Nathan Rogers' mother - said she is not at all surprised her son went into the armed services.

"He was always the kind of kid who was interested in that sort of thing," Mrs. Huffman said. "I can remember him playing Army as a little kid - with some of these other boys."

img • Age: 21
• Taylor High School, Class of 2000
• Parents: John and Leah Cordova, Miami Heights
• Played football and performed in school production of Bye Bye Birdie at Taylor High School.
• After high school, earned nurse's aide certificate and worked in a nursing home.
• Currently in U.S. Army basic training at Fort Knox, Ky.
Even as they deal with the fear and uncertainty of having children serving overseas or, possibly, about to do so, these families have something special. Each other.

"Every one of these boys is a good kid; not one of them was ever in any trouble; every one of them is a caring and sensitive person," said Mrs. Schmalle, as the other parents laughed and talked in the Schmalle living room.

"I guess we did OK."


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