Mike Shucka and Jared Oakes serving in the Marines

Mike Shucka, left, joined friends Tiffany and Jared Oakes on a happier day on the Peninsula. Both young men will now see time in the Iraq War. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Editor's note: This is the second in a series profiling local servicemen who have been called into action during this time of global uncertainty. Please contact us at (360) 642-8181 if you have a family member or friend serving in the conflict.

PENINSULA and KUWAIT - Jared Oakes and Mike Shucka have been like brothers since they were little kids. They've been friends throughout the years, throughout high school and after. And when Oakes enlisted in the Marine Reserves after graduation, it wasn't long before Shucka followed suit and joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

For most of his time in active duty, Shucka was stationed in the Mojave Desert of California, some 60 miles from Palm Springs. He also had the opportunity to train overseas, spending a year in Asia.

After serving his required four years of active duty, Shucka was released last September. He moved to back to the Peninsula, living with parents, Frank and Mavis, and working a crab boat to make money - but it wasn't long before his country called him back into service.

"I got a letter in the mail saying I had to report in," said Shucka.

Marines are designated as inactive reserves for four years after the initial four years of active duty.

"I never thought they would," he said. "I figured if they need me, they knew what was going on pretty much six months ago. I figured they would've kept me in if they needed me."

Shucka said he had a suspicion, though, that he may be faced with this kind of situation.

"After Sept. 11 happened, yeah. But we just kind of went about our daily business like we always did. Nothing really changed for us," he said. "Then it started getting a little more serious the last few months I was in."

He said that the letter caught him by surprise and has delayed his future plans.

"Yeah, big surprise," said Shucka. "I was pretty mad at first. I mean, I had everything planned. I was going to school in August, was going to move down to California. It just puts everything on hold for now."

Shucka will be gone for at least an initial period of 12 months or, at most, upwards of two years.

Last Wednesday Shucka left his family home in Long Beach to join other servicemen and women at Fort Lewis to prepare for deployment. He called his mother Saturday night and said he had gotten his various inoculations and was issued his weapons, and that they were deploying to Kuwait in three weeks.

"That wasn't what we wanted to hear," said Mavis, who wished her son did not have to go. But, she said, "They didn't ask me."

"No one wants their son to be in the middle of a war," said Mavis. "People get hurt. I don't want it to be my son."

She said despite the fact her son enlisted as an infantryman in the Marines, she hadn't feared that he would be involved in a conflict like this.

"We hadn't really been at war for a long time," she said, "and Desert Storm was kind of 'in and out' and there really weren't big casualties."

With the safety of her son out of her control, she said she is leaving him in the hands of a higher power.

"I believe that it's all in God's hands, and that's all I can do."

While Shucka prepares to leave his native soil, his closest friend, Oakes, is already in that faraway land, stationed in the Kuwaiti desert only miles from the Iraqi border.

Oakes was an inactive reservist. After basic and specialty training, he was only required to serve a weekend a month and two weeks a year for six years.

"He was in college a little over a year ago and they actually called him into active duty," said his mother, Debbie.

His Marine battalion was the first to be called active into the newly formed Homeland Security Department. Around 1,100 Marines in the California region were called up, including Jared, who was attending school there. He was stationed at Camp Pendelton in San Diego for the past year.

But in mid-December, Jared and some of his colleagues were released from active duty. Jared returned to his family's home on the Peninsula for the holidays - only to receive a phone call the day after Christmas, recalling him into active duty - this time to Kuwait.

"I remember walking in and Jared was sitting on the counter and mom was sitting there and nobody was saying anything," said Tiffany Turner, Jared's sister. "I could tell mom was crying, but they were looking at each other. I walked in and you could just feel it in the air. After about three 'What's wrong's?' he finally told me."

Turner said when Jared was released he was given the indication that it was possible he could get called back up, but he really thought he was done with active duty.

"They had told him he was done," said Turner. "He was going to go back down to California and go to school."

Jared's family all agreed his being called back was not a surprise to any of them - including Jared.

"I think that we feared it. After Sept. 11, we were on pins and needles," said Debbie. "By the time he got called it was the end of January [2002], by that time we had let our guard down."

And since he was activated as part of Homeland Security, they didn't think that he would see any action outside the States.

Debbie said the whole family was surprised when Jared enlisted in the reserves. The Oakes family does not have a history of military service.

"We were supportive, but it was like, 'Where'd this come from?' He was 18, and as any parents, you're going to support what your kids do - we're very proud of him."

Turner said when enlisting Jared had aspirations of flying and wasn't worried but being part of a war.

"There hadn't been a war. There hadn't been a conflict," said Turner. "They hadn't called anybody [reserves] into active duty for, like, 30 years."

"Of course you're signing up and the bottom line is, if there's a war we can call you, you can go into active duty," said Debbie. "I don't even think that that was even a thought really."

Jared has been stationed at Camp Coyote, some 30 kilometers from the Iraqi border, since mid-February.

Since his arrival Debbie said she has had limited contact with her son, though she has been getting updates via email from an information officer at the site who disseminates news to family members.

She said that the e-mails describe what the troops are basically doing - trying to build a base camp - that will house over 7,000 troops. So far, the living conditions Jared and his fellow troops have endured would put human rights organizations to shame, said Debbie.

"Right now there's no water," she said. "One of these e-mails talks about how inhuman the conditions are. Mike [Shucka] talked to one of his buddies, that arrived [at Camp Coyote] on Feb.1 and has not had a shower since. They're just living in this big huge sand pit, trying to survive."

Debbie went on to say that for the first several days there was no hot food served or heat for the tents. She also said that her son, being as resourceful as he is, was able to get a hold of a laptop computer and was able to send her a quick e-mail a few days after arriving.

"We were elated - I cried," she said, trying to hold back tears again. "He's literally in the middle of nowhere."

Debbie said that so far Jared's military experience has been a good one, saying he is planning on using the scientific knowledge he's gained toward his studies in college. Jared's military specialty could play a major role in the possible conflict - that of a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense Specialist. Debbie said Jared thinks he will see action in a team that patrols in Humvees, assessing areas for those possible threats.

"He's not as close to the front lines as Mike would be," she said. "Because [Mike's] infantry, he's in the front. Marines' motto is, 'First in, last to leave.'"

Jared's specialty is the smallest group in the Marines, but Turner said it could end up being one of the more important. "In this war, probably more than any other."

Jared's parents say he does not believe in the impending conflict and is having a hard time with the fact that he is where he is because of it.

"I mean, he believes in America. He understands his duty, but it's hard," said Debbie. "He had a very difficult time choosing to report. I mean he really struggled personally."

She said she asked him the day he was called back if he could ever see himself killing someone if that's what he had to do.

"He said, 'If someone was shooting at me or at my buddies, yes, I could,'" said Debbie. "He will defend himself. Does he want to? He does not want to."

And though her son is a part of the conflict at hand, Debbie said she supports the troops, the country, the president and the decisions he makes.

"But I'm scared to death."

And does she feel it is right for her son to be there right now?

"It wasn't what he planned, but he did join the Marines. And he has a duty, as the rest of them do. They're there and he will defend our country," she said.

Debbie and Mavis both agreed that it will be a long year for the two families who have been close for so long.

"But we're going to make the best of it," said Debbie. "They say that letters are like gold to these men over there. It's their contact with home and he's going to get lot's of letters.

"I don't think any of them want to be there - none of them want to be there," said Debbie. "They left homes and families and their wives. A lot of these people have bills, they took huge cuts in pay. I mean, you don't have a choice. And it doesn't only affect them, it affects the people they left behind."

How can you help troops in the Middle East?

Many of the soldiers stationed in the region around Kuwait have no families and do not receive any mail or packages from home. Being over there can be a very hard experience as it is, but to do it alone can be devastating.

"It's really important," said Mavis Shucka. "Mail call is a huge thing. If you never received anything, can you imagine how you would feel?"

Shucka, vice president of marketing and sales for The Bank of the Pacific, has organized a local effort in conjunction with the website: www.operationmilitarysupport.com, which links citizens with troops in need of some family-type support.

Shucka said people will be able to come into any of the bank's 10 locations and sign up to write letters or send items to these troops, or to just get more information on the project.

"If people want to help, there are ways they can help. Very tangible ways," said Debbie Oakes.

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