Story and photos
by Nikki Carlson
The hardest part for Jody Lander of Havre was Jan. 30 as men and women cast their votes during the Iraqi election. She watched the election story unfold from thousands of miles away. The sight of civilians being killed for casting their ballots and soldiers dying for helping them was too much for Jody to bear.
She tries not to focus on news. Instead, she remains confident that her sons, Greg and Doug Lander, are alive and doing their part to be a voice for those who've grown accustomed to being silent.
Jody and her husband, Darrel, anxiously waited Thursday at the Amtrak station for the arrival of their son, Montana Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Greg Lander. Darrel got his hand-held camera ready, as tears of joy ran down Jody's face.
"It's emotional," she said. "I didn't think that I would get this emotional because (Greg's) been very upbeat about it.
"This is very emotional for families because so many families are going through this," she added.
Jody walked up to her oldest son and wrapped her arms around him before he could let go of his bags. Darrel bear-hugged his 11-year-old granddaughter, Whitney Lander, and his daughter-in-law, Jeanie Lander.
The last time Greg saw his family was November of 2004, just before Thanksgiving.
Greg, 40, of Post Falls, Idaho, is stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq, north of Baghdad, where's he's in charge of 40 other soldiers. He believes American troops should be in Iraq and said they are providing guidance for the Iraqi people rebuilding their government.
"I think it's necessary because it's a bad regime," he said. "Originally (we were there) to get rid of dictatorship. At this point, we owe it to the Iraqi people to let them figure out the government that they want in place."
It's been difficult to leave his family behind to fight. He keeps in touch with his wife and daughter through regular e-mails and phone calls.
Jeanie's focus during his husband's absence has been everyday life with her daughter.
"Whit and I just try and keep our regular routine," she said. "He believes in what he's doing so we try to support him."
Greg and his family will travel to Great Falls on Saturday for his grandmother's 85th birthday. It's there that Darrel and Jody hope to meet up with their 38-year-old son, Montana Army National Guard Sgt. Doug Lander of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, who is also serving overseas in Iraq. Both Greg and Doug are on a two-week leave.
Greg is a 1983 graduate of Havre High School. His brother graduated in 1986.
Darrel's mother's birthday "just happened to coincide with these guys being home," Darrel said. "So we're definitely excited about having them here. Both of them have been shot at from time to time over there. Everybody's on the front line, though. It's kind of like Vietnam. Everybody's on the front line."
Greg and Doug are both in Troop E, 163rd Cavalry. Greg sometimes gets to see his little brother on foreign soil, and he said it's no different than seeing him back home.
Darrel said he supports his sons and commends them for knowing the meaning of the word duty. "I personally think we're there for a reason and especially after talking to my two boys, both of them feel that we should be there - that we're doing some good. Their unit has personally opened up a couple of schools and supplied them with school supplies. A lot of these kids have never gone to school before," he said. "So they're convinced that we're definitely doing the right thing and I support that all the way."
Greg said being back home is a "nice break" away from a hostile environment.
"I miss the freedom to move around as you want to," he said.
Whitney, who is sprouting into her teenage years, said she plans to break her father's swimming record while he's back.
"I'm proud that he's fighting for our country, but I miss him a lot," she said.
Thursday morning's terrorist attack in London struck a chord with the Lander family.
"That does remind you that these idiots are in other places besides Iraq," Darrel said.
"I even feel more so that we need to be over there," Jody said. "You pray that (her sons) are safe. But when something like that happens ... you don't know what's going to happen."
Jeanie said she has trouble picking up a newspaper or watching the news because of the tragic stories reported in Iraq. She worries, but all she can do is wait for a phone call or e-mail from Greg telling her he's OK.
"I need to know what's going on. But Greg tells me too that a lot of what you hear on the news, that's 10 percent of what's going on. There's 90 percent good stuff going on," she said.
Greg admitted that he's been under fire, but it hasn't happened as often as people think it does.
"In the seven months that I've been there, I've only had 10 instances or something like that, or one every three weeks or so."
Greg's responsibility is to protect Iraqi civilians from the insurgents. However, his unit has also been a part of some positive projects to help rebuild the war-torn country.
"Typically we've got a little part of Kirkuk that we're responsible for. So we'll go out into the city and we check on projects that we've got going on. We put the clinics together for them, the schools, pave streets and of course look for the insurgents," he said.
It's been nearly 28 months since the war began, and there's no certainty as to when American troops will pull out of Iraq.
"The Iraqi people are going to determine that. When they decide that they don't want to put up with the insurgents anymore, then they will get rid of them pretty easily," Greg said.
The Lander family will have to endure more time apart from Greg and Doug as they fight for the freedom of others thousands of miles away.
Darrel just hopes his sons return back home safely and are respected for their efforts.
"Nobody likes to see their sons go to war, that's for sure," he said. "But they're doing their duty and I hope they are appreciated for it."