Sunday, May 11, 2003

Reservist phones from Kuwait to reassure dad

Catching up

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] David Henrich hugs son, Matthew, before he went to Iraq in March.
(Enquirer file photo)
| ZOOM |
For David Henrich, weeks of uneasiness and uncertainty began to subside a bit when his cell phone rang April 22 just as he was leaving work.

"What's going on?" said the voice on the other end.

Henrich asked who was calling.

"Your son," the voice responded.

Spc. Matthew Henrich, 23, was calling from Kuwait, and he was OK."It was a shock. I never expected he would get to call," the elder Henrich says.

Matthew is a member of the 478th Engineer Battalion Army Reserves, based in Fort Thomas. The phone call came after Matthew spent a grueling 28 days in Iraq.

A story about Matthew's February send-off to war appeared in Tempo on March 21, two days after the fighting began. An emotional photo of father and son hugging accompanied the story.

The April 22 phone call lasted only 13 minutes. Father and son were cut off before saying goodbye. But Matthew called again the next evening and had more time to talk to his dad, stepmother and grandmother.

Matthew said he had been assigned to Marine convoys heading north toward Baghdad.

His nights were spent on guard duty, scanning the horizon through night-vision goggles.

During the day, when the convoys rolled over rugged terrain, he tried to sleep.

"He said they had more firefights and sniper attacks during the day," his father says. "He said if he got two hours sleep a day, he did good."

Three times he accompanied American forces heading north into Iraq, coming within 70 miles of Baghdad. Each time his engineers' unit doubled back to bring additional convoys toward the capital. He also told of going 28 days without a bath or clean clothes, of trying to wash underwear in a helmet, and hanging it out to dry in the sand-blown desert only makes matters worse.

On the 29th day, he got a respite in Kuwait. And a shower.

He told his family he was heading back into Iraq. There have been no phone calls since.

"He was 23 years old when he went over there, and kind of immature," his father says. "I'm sure he's going to come back 24 years old, a much more thoughtful adult, with much more appreciation for life."


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