Monday, April 7, 2003

Florence pilot home safe from Kuwait

By Cameron Collins
Gannett News Service

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Having her Air Force captain husband sleeping soundly in their Clarksville home is an enormous relief to Tara Wisher after the F-16 fighter pilot was severely injured during a March 23 grenade attack in Kuwait.

Capt. Mark Wisher, a 29-year-old Florence, Ky., native, had flown bombing missions in Afghanistan. But this time, as an air liaison officer for the 101st Airborne Division, he was only supposed to be an advisor - not near enough to the front to be in danger.

At least that's what he told his wife and family before departing for the Mideast to coordinate airstrikes when ground troops in Iraq called for them.

Then there were the five hours Tara, whose parents live in Crittenden, Ky., feared the unknown. She watched breaking news of the carnage as a result of the grenade attack attributed to a fellow U.S. soldier.

She got a call about 1 a.m. March 24 telling her that Mark had been injured but was OK.

"Not knowing, of course, was so stressful," the 30-year-old woman said Sunday from their Clarksville home. "I was just relieved at that point he was OK. I got a call about every three hours those first couple of days."

Then came the delays. Mark couldn't be flown from Kuwait because of sandstorms, and the military hadn't been able to arrange for Tara to fly to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany to meet him.

Fortunately, Mark's brother, Tony Wisher, works for an airline and made the necessary arrangements for Tara to get to Germany Thursday.

"The best part is just being able to see him and be there for him," Tara said of her first reaction upon being reunited with her husband, who suffered shrapnel injuries to his abdomen, right arm and right leg.

More than two weeks after the initial attack, Tara hasnžt taken time to think about the 101st soldier accused of throwing grenades into the officers' tents, killing two and wounding 13 others.

On Friday, charges against Sgt. Hasan Akbar, including two counts of premeditated murder, were announced, though he was formally charged March 25.

"It's more disbelief than anything else," Tara said of her feelings toward the man accused of injuring her husband. "My personal feeling is that he's a coward but I still canžt believe a fellow soldier could do that."

Tara said her husband is well enough to have been discharged, though treatment will continue at Fort Campbell as an outpatient. It will require about three months, including physical and rehabilitation therapy.

"Doctors are expecting a full recovery," Tara Wisher said. "I think he'll recuperate much better at home. He said he's sick of hospitals, sick of hospital food especially, and what he needs more than anything right now is rest at home."

Tara's parents, Revel and Geri Prather of Crittenden, have been by her side the entire time. Tara was visiting her mom and dad - himself a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War - at the time of the grenade attack.

"I'm so proud of Mark," Revel Prather said. "Like he's my own."

In Florence, Jerry and Marilyn Wisher speak with pride but concern about their son.

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

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."

And even though Mark was injured, Tara said she loves the military and would "recommend it to anyone."

Patrick Crowley and Erica Solvig of The Cincinnati Enquirer contributed.

E-mail Cameron Collins at

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