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Families worry, but stand tall behind military loved ones

by Darlene J. Taylor

STAFF WRITER

SHINNSTON -- Karen and Danny Drain are very proud of their daughter and son-in-law who are serving their country in the Air Force.

But since Sept. 11, that pride also carries with it a certain amount of worry.

Staff Sgt. Bethany M. Elstrom is an information management journeyman who enlisted in 1991. Her husband, Tech Sgt. John Elstrom, who serves as a crew chief, has been in the Air Force for 1212 years.

"They were trained by the best. I worry a lot, but she can handle herself," her father said.

"It's a little bit scary with war. I trust our government to take care of her," said Karen Drain.

Staff Sgt. Elstrom has received numerous commendations during her career, including the 2000 Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, the John Levitow Award (the highest academic award for professional military education) and the Julio Alonso Award for Leadership.

Tech Sgt. Elstrom, originally of Kansas, has been named the Air Mobility Command Crew Chief of the Year. He was mobilized for 23 days immediately following Sept. 11 as a pilot of C-5 aircraft.

"He's flying all the time. He is a flying crew chief," Bethany Elstrom said from her Air Force base home in Dover, Del. "We both went into the military with our eyes wide open, knowing anything could happen."

"John keeps a bag packed at all times and has 1,200 hours flying time," said his father-in-law.

"We've got a war to fight and I'm ready to go," John Elstrom told the Drains.

"My feelings haven't changed at all since Sept. 11," said Bethany Elstrom. "My family has always supported me. They feel I'm doing the right thing."

The Elstroms plan to make a career out of the military and enjoy the benefits it offers. She has traveled to Saudi Arabia twice and to France.

Bethany Elstrom is pursuing a bachelor's degree in psychology with the government paying 75 percent of her tuition to a private school.

But being six hours away from their daughter and son-in-law is hard for the Drains. The Elstroms must stay within one hour's drive of the base at all times.

"We talk on the phone every day -- sometimes many times a day," said Karen Drain.

That's why knowing other people who have relatives in the military can be helpful.

"Military people and their families have something in common. We're almost like family," she said.

Dr. Robert and Rosemary Wanker of Bridgeport have a son, Charles, who is a captain in the Air Force and has a family practice in Nebraska.

Although there is a slim chance their son will be called to duty because of the residency program he is in, their niece's husband is a Navy SEAL and could very likely be called soon.

"Our son Chuck always wanted to be a doctor and after talking to a friend in the service, he decided to be a doctor in the military," said Rosemary Wanker.

"He told us that the military made going through medical school easier because of the discipline and things he learned," she said.

Robert and Rosemary Wanker said as parents they are concerned but have no reservations about their son going overseas if he is called to duty.

"He is very dedicated and said he feels privileged to be serving America," Robert Wanker said.

"I do get very nervous now," said Rosemary Wanker. "But I'm very proud that this is what he wanted to do," she said.

The Wankers say they will be there to talk to their niece if her newlywed husband should be called.

"I believe staying in touch could make a difference. I'm sure we will talk a lot more if he is called," Rosemary Wanker said.

Danny Drain said he is proud of all the service personnel.

"They do an outstanding job. I think about them all. There is no feeling like when they get back home and you can get a hold of them," he said.

Staff writer Darlene Taylor can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at dtaylor@exponent-telegram.com.

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