(Photo by Nancy Nelson)
Staff Sergeant Clark Voge knew when he signed on with the Army Reserves that there would always be a possibility of being called to active duty. The closest he came was when he and his unit, the 482nd Transportation Company, were put on alert for Desert Storm in 1991. They never had to go active at that time because the situation was short lived.
Voge is a lifelong resident of Cherokee and his regular job is at the HyVee Warehouse in Cherokee. His wife, Tiffany, is a teacher's aide at Roosevelt Elemenetary School. They have two sons. Dawson is in fifth grade and Connor is in third grade.
On July 11, 2004 the 482nd was called to active duty to serve in Iraq. Since many of the men in his unit had already been called up to fill in slots in other units, the 482nd had to pull a unit together with other reservists from all across the country.
Ultimately, the 482nd represented nearly every state in the United States. Of the 167 soldiers in the unit only 25 were originally from 482nd posted in Cherokee.
This situation caused concern for Tiffany because she was worried about the safety of her husband's safety. These were people, young people, with whom Voge had not previously served.
Although Voge knew he would miss his family, he also knew his first priority was to take care of his troops, now his family for the next year. Since most of them were very young and inexperienced, he and the other old "dawgs" sort of became parents in the form of their leading officers.
Before leaving, Tiffany purchased Voge and their sons each a journal to keep while they were apart. Voge said he wrote in his nearly every day.
The other item sent to Iraq with Voge was a special teddy bear made at Build a Bear by his sons. The bear was made so that each paw had a message from each of the boys. Voge said the bear was "awesome" and it went with him on every single mission.
The 482nd arrived in Iraq via Kuwait where they waited for their equipment to be ferried across the Persian Gulf. Voge describes the heat as being hotter than hot. The highest temperature he saw was 145°F.
In Iraq there are two seasons, dry and rainy. During the dry season there isn't a single drop of rain, but during the rainy season it gets pretty awful. The ground becomes so saturated that it became difficult and even dangerous to dolly down tractor trailers.
The mission of the 482nd Transportation Company wasn't light duty by any means. It was dangerous and Voge did see action. They hauled a wide variety of supplies and equipment to many of the hot spots in Iraq, like Falluja, Ramadi, and Tikrit.
In all, Voge commanded 27 convoys and his fellow convoy commander, and now brother in arms, commanded the other half.
Perhaps one of the most important missions Voge describes, was hauling the cement barriers for security detail where polls were set up. These were to protect the Iraqi people who came to vote in their newly formed democracy. In light of that mission, Voge adds that in the United States we have taken so much of our freedom for granted.
For a year Voge lived in a 55-man tent. He said it wasn't a problem until a sandstorm came along. He said the storms are slow moving.
He was able to have almost daily contact with his family. With the time difference, he would have to call his family at Roosevelt Elementary school where Tiffany also works. Tiffany said the school was very supportive and the boys were allowed to talk to him and her. It meant a lot to Voge to be able to call his family when he needed to.
The majority of his time spent in Iraq was on the road completing the missions he and his unit were assigned to. Voge says they did come under attack. One day while on a mission, his convoy came under attack. He watched as the truck in front of him got hit with an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) and then in his mirror the truck behind him was hit. Just about that time he saw one fly over the hood of the truck he was in. Amazingly enough, although there were injuries, no one was killed.
Tiffany said she knew by the sound of his voice when he called that day, something happened. She kept the phone call to herself so she could support her husband in whatever way she could. When Voge was called up, Tiffany didn't imagine he would be in the thick of things.
She soon discovered that watching the news on television became too stressful because all the places described in the news were places where Voge was running missions. For the remainder of the year she and the boys didn't watch any news on television. Voge told her that unless she heard it from him, not to believe what she heard in the news.
Tiffany describes herself as always being independent, but while Voge was away she did discover she could do things she wouldn't normally do. There were those days when all she wanted to just lay down on the couch and cry but she knew she had to take care of what needed to be done. She got through it even with tears.
She adds that her mom and dad were major in supporting her. Without them she doubts she could have managed emotionally. She also says that her job helped keep her mind busy.
Voge adds there were days when he did cry, especially on a particularly stressful mission that found his convoy in the middle of a mine field for 37 hours. He says there wasn't a day that didn't go by that he didn't think about Tiffany and the boys.
He too kept his mind busy by taking care of his job and troops. He never dreamed he would be callling in an air strike in a war but he did. Then on the second to last day of his tour of duty his unit was "pounded by mortars" as he describes it. The only thing he could think of was wanting to make it home.
After a year 167 members of the 482nd Transportation Company returned home. All were accounted for and made it home alive. Voge says his fellow convoy commander and his driver became very close and are now permanently a part of his extended family. His driver, a young woman, who Voge describes as a "hell of driver" refers to her sarge as dad now that they are no longer on duty.
Although Christmas 2004 was tough on the family with the absence of Voge, Tiffany said her toughest time was during the summer when the family participates in many activities like baseball, canoeing, and fishing. It was hard, Tiffany said, she didn't have anybody to steer her canoe.
The boys especially missed dad during baseball season because, "Nobody knows how to coach like dad." Voge said the toughest part for him was being away at Christmas.
The boys have their own reasons for missing their dad. Dawson says, "I wanted him home because I missed him. I was proud of him because he was doing something important." Connor says, "I missed him taking me fishing and he wasn't here for the holidays, he missed the fun stuff."
When the unit returned to Fort Sill, Okla. Tiffany was able to fly down for five days. She said it was an honor to finally meet the people who had her husband's back for the last year.
She finally had faces to go with the names and they finally met the person who was important to Voge. They have indeed become an extended family and have since stayed in touch and plan to visit each other.
When Voge returned home there was a readjustment period that he was prepared for at Fort Sill. It took some time for him to get back into the dad role. He had to sit back and take in what was going on in order to ease back into his role.
The boys were so used to turning to their mom. Voge said he had to let that take its course. Eventually Tiffany referred the boys over to their dad and now he is getting back into the mode.
Voge said the boys did a great job of handling the fact that he was away for his tour of duty and he is very proud of them. When asked about his own attitudes after being in war, Voge replies, "War humbles a person."
Tiffany has noticed he is much calmer than he used to be. Voge says he has more patience now too, he doesn't sweat the small stuff anymore. He doesn't take anything for granted anymore.
When asked about his opinion of the war, Voge says he is glad we are doing it to keep the terrorists off our soil. "If we weren't there, they'd be here." The Iraqi people are glad we are there, the only ones not happy about it are the insurgents.