Family perseveres through war

Matt and Allison Sheck are looking forward to having him home after returning recently from his third tour of duty.

For Foreston residents Matt and Allison Sheck, the Iraq war has been more than evening news broadcasts and magnetic yellow ribbons on their vehicle. As the rebuilding in that country comes to an end, the rebuilding of their young family has just begun.

But their story doesn’t start there. The couple began dating shortly after Matt graduated from Milaca in 2002. They were married a year later, around the same time he enlisted in active duty with the infantry. Like many small town residents, the promise of travel, adventure, and an escape from the lack of job and other economic opportunities lured the 19-year-old Sheck into the military. It was an honorable way to provide for his young wife.

The newly weds said their farewells to family and friends shortly after when they made the move to Hawaii, where he was stationed. But it wasn’t the tropical paradise vacationers flock to for the Shecks.

“Flying home was a grand a pop, so you can’t afford to do that all the time,” Matt said.

Ethan, 7, and Amelia, 6, are "each other's worst enemies and best buds," according to Mom. Both are happy to have Dad back to attend hockey games and dance recitals.

While he was on his first deployment to Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2004, Allison was pregnant with their son, Ethan, and more than 4,000 miles from family and friends. As she endured the pregnancy alone, he was fighting a war under the thick black smoke in the center of Iraq’s oil industry, a high profile target for suicide bombers aimed at destroying the pipelines.

Matt returned in February of 2005, the day before Allison gave birth to their son. Ethan is a smaller, more energetic and flexible version of his dad, quicker to flash a wide grin that mirrors Matt’s — when he allows himself to crack a smile.

“He was able to be home for both births,” Allison said — an unusual turn of events considering two more tours of duty were in store for the couple.

Little Amelia was born in early 2006 in Hawaii and spent five months with her father before he was deployed again to Iraq, this time to more than an hour north of Baghdad in Baqubah.

‘I was pretty [expletive]’

With his four-year enlistment period nearly up, the deployment came as a surprise. But not nearly as much as the year-long stop-loss he faced in 2007.

“Nobody reads the fine print. I was [expletive],” Matt said. “It was a lot of anger.”

Allison was equally furious. Expecting to have her husband home with her two young children and having him spend another year in a war zone instead was a bitter pill to swallow.

“I was pretty [expletive].There’s not really a feeling to explain what it’s like to say goodbye,” she said.

It was also during that deployment that Matt’s company was given a two-month extension to its tour of duty. Eight out of the 11 members of the 2nd-35th Infantry who died during that deployment were killed during that extension. As one of the first teams on the scene, Matt witnessed some of those fatalities first-hand.

“They were just driving along a canal when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb,” he recalled. “It flipped through the air and landed on it’s roof. The driver got out…”

His voice trails off and Allison finishes the horrific details of how Matt watched three of his fellow service members die, trapped in a burning vehicle.

“That hit him pretty hard,” she said.

They changed the subject, preferring to speak about the sand, the heat and the unrelenting sun.

“Walking out the door, sweating 10 feet out — that’s the worst,” Matt said.

They worked mostly during the night in an effort to avoid the sweltering heat. He retells stories of escorting semis packed with supplies and fuel and vehicles carrying soldiers and communications systems.

For the full story, see the Thursday, May 3 print edition of the Times.