Friday, April 18, 2003

Guard unit: Like father, like son

Seven pairs add to family feel at Fort Campbell

By Teresa M. Walker
The Associated Press

FORT CAMPBELL - The Magnificent Seven are ready for their movie and book deals.

It's the running joke in the 1st Battalion of the 181st Field Artillery of the Tennessee Army National Guard, where the idea of togetherness has been taken to a new level by seven pairs of fathers serving with their sons.

The combination is thought to be the most of any guard unit in the country. But the family feel of a unit featuring approximately 420 members isn't that unusual to Maj. Paul Ballinger of Lafayette, Ga., who serves with his son, Pfc. Ryan Ballinger of Ringgold, Ga.

"Most of us have been in this unit quite a while," Maj. Ballinger said Wednesday at Fort Campbell, which sits on the Tennessee-Kentucky border.

"A lot of us have been in it for ages, and we've been through a lot together. It's not like an active unit where someone comes and goes. We know each other's families. We know them quite well."

First Sgt. Cody Mosier, 40, of Whitwell, Tenn., said the attention has been remarkable: "We've definitely got our 15 minutes of fame so far. None of us had experienced that. It is kind of unusual. I've never experienced anything like that in my 22 years."

Credit a couple of sons with pushing the 1st-181st to what they hope is a lucky seven.

Specialist Jeffery Ware, 23, of Chattanooga, Tenn., was a member of the guard in Oklahoma, where he was in college studying aviation electronics. He transferred to his father's unit after it was activated, started in maintenance and now works for his father, Staff Sgt. Roy Ware, 50, in communications.

"It made me proud and glad he came back," Roy Ware said. "Proud he wanted to go. I think highly of a man who wants to serve his country that much."

Specialist Jeb Kittle, 23, of Ringgold, Ga., served four years at Fort Campbell. He was working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico when he joined the guard in January, after his father's unit was activated. Now he's in the same battery as his father, Sgt. James Kittle, 47.

"I probably wouldn't have done it if he hadn't been in the unit," Jeb Kittle said. "I didn't want to necessarily just come back in the military or National Guard. I knew they had a very high probability of being deployed. That's why I joined up."

The unit spent six months in Kuwait and Iraq during Desert Storm, and Staff Sgt. Richard Mullins, 44, of Chattanooga, Tenn., served alongside Ballinger and Ware. When he returned then, he spoke to his son's fourth-grade class.

Now Sgt. Jeffrey Mullins, 22, is in the same battery with his father, where four of the fathers are assigned with their sons.

Richard Mullins admitted it's strange serving with his son, and it makes it tougher on his wife.

"She's really worried about it in a lot of ways. ... Of course, she feels a little bit better that we're both going together. She knows I'll take care of him. Or vice versa. We take care of each other," he said.

The unit, which specializes in operating mobile rocket launchers, has been training on perimeter defense and protecting checkpoints. If they reach Iraq and see any action, the fathers all agree that keeping one eye on their sons will not be a problem.

"I've been here almost 30 years, so I know all these guys and all the ones Jeff's age, I consider sons," Roy Ware said. "I've got four other guys in my section as young as he is, and I owe it to their parents, as well as to his mom, to take care of them and make sure they all get back."

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Guard unit: Like father, like son