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Women of war honored

| Monday, April 10, 2006

Jackie and Carrie Conrad know the horrors of war first hand.

Jackie is the mother of Spc. Ben Conrad. Carrie is Ben's wife.

Jackie and Carrie Conrad joined many other women for a banquet Sunday at the Calvary Baptist Church in Uniontown. The banquet honored women who have loved ones serving in Iraq.

Unlike other women at Sunday's dinner whose loved ones are still overseas, Jackie and Carrie attended the dinner with Ben Conrad. But Ben wasn't there because his tour of duty was up. Ben was back in the U.S. because he suffered life-threatening injuries Aug. 24.

Ben served with the Army National Guard in the HHC 1-110 28th Infantry Division out of Mt. Pleasant, as a member of the Quick Reaction Force. He was taking care of a project when the Humvee he and three other soldiers were riding in was hit by a remote-detonated bomb.

The vehicle, which Ben was driving, sustained the most damage on the driver's side.

"I was out for about 15 seconds after it happened," he said. "When I came to, I couldn't see out of my eyes. I thought I lost them but it was just that they had so much blood in them.

"I managed to get my seatbelt off and get the door open, and I crawled out of the vehicle," Conrad continued. "I got away from it a little bit because I didn't know if it was going to catch on fire or what was happening."

The next five to seven days included two trips to medical facilities, a trip to a hospital in Germany, and then to a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He finally was sent to Walter Reed Medical Center, in Washington. D.C.

Today, he is recovering from the loss of part of his skull, shrapnel injuries to his legs, neck and head, blood clotting on his lungs and brain, continued short-term memory loss and some vision loss in his right eye.

"I'm thankful to be alive," Ben said. "There (have) been a lot of people that have been taking care of me and making sure that I'm doing good."

Ben thought yesterday's banquet for the women was a good idea. He said he knows that most women wonder day to day if their soldier is OK.

"I think this kind of support is needed," Ben said. "It's hard for them -- especially for those who have children. The women have to take care of the kids, keep the house in order and on top of that worry every day about their son or husband overseas."

His mom was very happy to see the support dinner take place.

"You really do need this kind of support," she said. "You know what they're doing over there. It's good to be around other women going through the same thing."

Jackie Conrad and Dixie Coldren, Ben's mother-in-law, said they could not have made it without hundreds of people praying for them and the support of family and church.

Patty Schomer, of Everson, attended the dinner because her son, Bill Schomer Jr., who also serves with the HHC 1-110th 28th Infantry Division, is currently serving in Iraq.

"It's a great way to honor the guys and to get a chance to meet the other wives and mothers who have someone serving in Iraq," she said. "People in society tend to forget and almost lessen their support after three years, but there are still guys dying over there every day. This helps to reinforce that there are still people who still care and love to show support for the guys and their families."

Jessica Judy, a member of the church's One Heart Ladies group, devised the idea of the banquet. Her brother is currently serving in Iraq.

More than 100 people attended the event. Individuals came from as far away as Beaver and Butler.

Joe Ritz, the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, was thrilled to see the turnout.

"I think it's fantastic," he said. "This was a great idea to show our support and to show God's love through us to those who have military people deployed. We just wanted to show our appreciation."

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