From his location at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, within the barbed-wired, blast wall-enclosed, heavily guarded confines of the Green Zone, Capt. Jeff Kramb performs some crucial duties. In our neighborhood students, service club members and moms are working together to make sure we don’t forget our sons and daughters serving in the military

In his capacity as a civil affairs officer, Kramb plots ways in which Iraqis can become independent of the United States, helping them stake out their economic future. He meets with leaders throughout the country to discuss such issues, and his work may be one of the lynchpins of success in that country.

Though his work is mainly cerebral, Kramb, like many in Iraq, says he’s never all that safe. He has seen two men blown up in front of the building in which he works, killed by one of the routine mortar attacks the Green Zone draws, and he has seen even carnage in his frequent trips around the Iraqi countryside, visiting with provincial and district governments as part of a Provincial Reconstitution Team.
But about a dozen times since arriving in Iraq last spring, Kramb has taken time out of his day to buy an American flag at a Green Zone store, hoist it up the Embassy’s rooftop flagpole, and then take it back down just minutes later and wrap it up. He does this so he can send a flag flown above Iraq back home to the United States, and the destination of every flag is the same: the Military Moms of Lake Highlands, a group of about 50 Lake Highlands women with sons in the service.

The flags are reminders, says Judy Kramb, his mother and a member of the Military Moms, who admires her son’s “dedication to working with developing countries, though as a mother it’s tough to be happy about it.” The flags, she says, “remind us about our boys over there, doing their jobs.”

It’s for this reason that she and the Military Moms will present a Baghdad-flown flag to Lake Highlands High School, her son’s alma mater, during the Nov. 9 football game, to mark the high school’s new Military Day, the brainchild of the school’s student council.
According to Katherine Laster, student council sponsor, the military will be honored both during the afternoon pep rally and the evening football game, when the band and drill team will play patriotic music, the names of LHHS alumni in the military will be read over the loudspeaker, and red, white, and blue T-shirts, emblazoned with yellow ribbons, will be sold.

The game is just one way neighborhood groups are attempting to raise the profile of Lake Highlands graduates serving overseas. Such efforts also included the summer’s Fourth of July parade, when Exchange Club of Lake Highlands members carried posters bearing the image of such young men and women, the word “hero” in large print below them. The Exchange Club is now working on a new poster-related campaign.

“We want to create something that looks just like the school posters you see in stores of cheerleaders and football players, but with pictures of (LHHS) graduates in the military,” said John Dean, the Exchange Club past president who is spearheading the poster campaign. “We want to hang them in stores and businesses all around the community. I think we should honor those serving their country just like we honor these athletes.”

Other than their flag donation during the Nov. 9 game, however, the Military Moms are in no way interested in making any type of statement. No politics ever enter into their deliberations, according to numerous members, and they support no particular causes. Rhonda Russell, the group’s organizer, describes the group as “more a supportive gathering than anything else.”

The origin of the group goes back to when Russell was a teacher at the high school years ago and began keeping a list of LHHS alumni heading overseas, her son being among their ranks. When he left for Iraq as a military intelligence officer in 2005 — the same year Russell retired from her full-time teaching position — she used the list to contact some of the other mothers with children serving overseas.

The Military Moms’ first meeting drew six women. They’ve since expanded their membership to include about 50 women, and the group meets monthly, mostly to “let mothers be with people who really understand how hard it can be,” Russell says. One such mother is Annette Kelley, a member of the group whose two sons are both in Iraq.

“It’s very difficult sometimes, knowing they’re in harm’s way,” Kelley says. “When the phone rings, you get real excited, and you hope it’s them. But when the doorbell rings, you’re not sure you want to answer it. The group is nice to have.”

Group member Paula Tharp’s twin sons, Brian and Casey, both enlisted in the military at age 17, at a time of relative peace geopolitically, and she’s thankful both are on relatively tranquil home soil at the moment. Brian recently came home from a nearly year-long tour in Iraq, while Casey has yet to ship out, currently receiving the training necessary to fly Apache helicopters through RPG-filled war zones.

While she says she’s not one to publicize her sons, whom she repeatedly asserts are “just doing their duty,” Tharp sent their pictures to be included on the poster the Exchange Club is designing, and she supports recent activities to raise the profile of local military men and women.

“People don’t see their neighbors when they think of the Iraq War,” Tharp says. “They don’t see the kid their son played tee-ball with, or the guy in their math class, or anything like that. I think sometimes they forget who’s fighting over there.

“They need to remember these are their neighbors, people they know.”