Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Ky. pilot hurt in attack on camp

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CRITTENDEN - Air Force Capt. Mark Wisher flew F-16 bombing missions over Afghanistan and guarded the DMZ in Korea without getting hurt. Deployed last month to Kuwait, the Florence native and 1991 St. Henry High School graduate told his wife and family not to worry because, as an adviser, he didn't expect to be close enough to the enemy to see any combat action.

Air Force Capt. Mark Wisher and his wife Tara in a family photo
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But he didn't anticipate an attack from one of his own.

Wisher, 29, an air liaison officer serving with the 101st Airborne, is being flown today to a military hospital at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to be treated for serious injuries he received in a bizarre attack Saturday at Camp Pennsylvania, a U.S. Army base in Kuwait.

After two surgeries, Capt. Wisher is in critical but stable condition with serious injuries to his abdomen and minor damage to his leg, said his wife, Tara Wisher.

Sgt. Asan Akbar of the 101st Airborne was taken into custody after one soldier died and 15 were injured by grenades and small arms fire. Three soldiers suffered serious injuries, among them Wisher.

Half a world away, a military wife hopes for good news and a soldier's parents pray for the best.

Tara is making arrangements to visit her husband in a hospital in Germany.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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Tara Wisher, 30, sat in the living room of her parents' Grant County home Monday morning, a red-white-and-blue ribbon pinned to her sweater. Pictures of her husband, Mark, were in her lap. She showed the photos to visitors but stopped on each one for just a moment to look at the face of the man she loves and can't wait to see.

"I'm trying to get to Germany now," Wisher calmly said. "I need to be with him, and somehow I'll get there."

She has not slept much since word came of the attacks in a 2 a.m. phone call from Kuwait Sunday morning. Her parents, Revel and Geri Prather, have been by her side the entire time. Tara happened to be visiting her mom and dad, who himself served in the Marine Corps, at the time of the Camp Pennsylvania attack.

"I'm so proud of Mark," said Mr. Prather, his eyes red from a combination of little sleep and lots of emotion. "Like he's my own."

Tara received a call from Kuwait Monday morning with news that her husband will be moved to Germany on a flight that was scheduled to leave Kuwait this morning.

"I didn't get to talk to him," Wisher said, the disappointment obvious in her voice. "But a colonel told me he was doing much better. He's still in (intensive care), and he's still not completely out of the woods, but he is doing a lot better.

"He was still groggy, but he was joking around and stuff," she said. "He even asked for some ice cream."

His favorite flavor? "Chocolate peanut butter," she said.

In Florence, parents worry

Not far away in Florence, Jerry and Marilyn Wisher speak with pride but concern about the son they raised in the home at the corner of Ann Street and Burke Avenue.

"All he ever wanted to do was fly," Jerry Wisher said of his son. "He would have rather been flying over there than helping with ground support. But he was following orders. He was a good soldier."

Age: 29
Hometown: Florence
Wife: Tara Prather Wisher
Parents: Jerry and Marilyn Wisher
Brother: Tony Wisher, 27.
Children: None
Education: St. Paul Elementary School, St. Henry High School, graduated 1991, Eastern Kentucky University, graduated 1996.
Duties: F-16 pilot attached to 101st Airborne Division as an air liaison officer.
Career ambition: Commercial airline pilot after military service.
Quote: "Mark is a strong, stubborn guy," said lifelong friend Greg Corsmeier, who said he thinks that will help his friend pull through.
The Wishers are still a little shaken from the call that every parent dreads.

"We knew his unit had been attacked," Marilyn Wisher said. "Saw it on the news. That's when I got a little scared. But when (Tara) called us that night and told us what happened, I just couldn't believe that he was hurt and that somebody in the military might have done this."

The Wishers were trying to get passports Monday so they can visit their son in Germany, where he is expected to stay for about two weeks before coming home to Fort Campbell. The local office of U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican, was helping the Wishers expedite getting passports.

"He's hurt," Marilyn Wisher said. "I want to be with him."

Tara Wisher will either be flown by the military or arrange a flight through Mark's brother, Tony, who works for Delta Air Lines.

"This is just so unexpected," Tara Wisher said. "He did not expect to be anywhere near the front lines."

Though he is an experienced F-16 pilot, Capt. Wisher's job in Kuwait was to stay on the ground and use technology to help guide bombing missions and air raids on targets in Iraq.

"I really never worried too much when he was flying," Marilyn Wisher said. "I knew he was good. I knew he was cautious. And I knew he was happy doing what he was doing."

Pilot dreams from childhood

Mark Wisher wanted to be a pilot for about as long as anyone can remember. When he was just six months old, Mark flew for the first time, sitting in his father's lap. Jerry Wisher is also a pilot and at the time was flying a small prop plane

"Being a fighter pilot in the Air Force was all Mark ever talked about," said Amelia resident Greg Corsmeier, a Florence native who has known Mark since the two were in the second grade together at St. Paul's School. They remain close, vacation together once a year and saw each other just weeks ago in Clarksville, Tenn., the military town near Fort Campbell where the Wishers have lived since November.

"He was so gung-ho and so excited about finally getting his dream," Corsmeier said. "His brother told me when he first regained consciousness after the attack, the first thing he did was ask about his men. That's just the way Mark is. He's more worried about other people than himself."

Mark was at Eastern Kentucky University studying aviation management - he wants to be a commercial airline pilot upon leaving the military - when he was set up on a blind date with Tara. Rather than dinner and a movie, Mark took her on a ride in a small Cessna.

"It was a great first date," she said. "If he was trying to impress me, it worked."

Dropped bombs after 9-11

After graduating from EKU in 1996 Mark joined the military and was eventually accepted into the prestigious Euro-NATO flight school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, a "Top Gun" training program where he honed his skills piloting the F-16 fighter jet.

Mark and Tara were married in 1998, but just eight months after taking their vows at the Crittenden Christian Church in Grant County, Mark was sent to South Korea for a year, where Americans are involved in keeping an eye on hostile elements in North Korea.

After the terrorist attacks of 9-11 Mark was assigned to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where he made military history by being one of the first F-16 pilots to drop a new kind of bomb, the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAMs, satellite-guided weapons known for their accuracy and devastating power.

"Being in the first formation of F-16s delivering the (bombs) in combat didn't enter my mind," Mark Wisher told the Air Combat Command News Service in February of 2002. "However, walking out the door and watching the (bomb) function and then returning safely to base, it left me with a great feeling of pride and accomplishment."

JDAMs have been used extensively in the bombing of Baghdad since the current war began.

True blue to the military

Mark and Tara moved to Fort Campbell from a base in Idaho in November. And even though her husband has been injured, Tara said she loves the military and would "recommend it to anyone."

"We've lived in five places in five years of marriage, we get to travel and Mark loves what he does," she said.

Tara did say that Mark and the other soldiers are upset with war protesters here at home. "The protestors need to know that the soldiers see pictures of the protests, and that hurts morale," she said.

Asked if Americans here at home can do anything for her son, Marilyn Wisher offered a suggestion.

"Just fly an American flag," she said.

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com

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