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Families try to find peace after losing a family member in Iraq War

By By Alva James-johnson

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (MCT)

Published: Tuesday, March 19 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Every morning, Phyllis Bailey whispers a prayer and lights a candle at her Fort Mitchell home in memory of her daughter, Lakeshia, an Army sergeant who died in 2010 while serving in Iraq.

“I find peace within that candle, I don’t know why,” she said softly while reflecting on her life without her daughter. “It just helps me.”

For survivors like Bailey, Kim Benford Weaver and Dr. John Henderson, this week’s 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion is another reminder of the toll war took on their families.

Weaver, a nurse, lost her husband, Staff Sgt. Jason A. Benford, during his second deployment to Iraq in 2005. Henderson, a family doctor in Columbus and former military surgeon, lost his son, John Jr., in Afghanistan in August 2005. John Jr. became a Ranger, in part, because he was inspired by the Iraq War.

While she has remarried, Weaver said her late husband is still a significant part of her life, and it hasn’t been easy moving on.

“There’s not a day that goes by that you don’t think about him,” she said. “But I’ve tried to think about it in a positive manner so I’m not always sad and negative.”

For Henderson there is little distinction between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When his son died, Henderson thought he was deployed to Iraq, but later found out he was on a high-security mission in Afghanistan.

“In the military,” Henderson said, “both of these wars are collectively called ‘The Long War’ because it’s taken so damn long.”

Staff Sgt. Jason A. Benford

When Weaver met Jason Benford in 1996, she was drawn to his blue eyes, dark hair and 6-foot-4-inch frame. Already three years into his Army career, he had recently returned from a tour in Korea. Weaver, who stands 5 feet tall, was a Columbus girl who hadn’t seen much of the world. Benford was from Toledo, Ohio, and a huge Ohio State Buckeye fan. He brought excitement to her life.

In January 1998, the couple married, and Benford adopted Weaver’s 1-year-old son, Lane. A few months later, Benford was deployed to Germany, where the family lived for three years.

“I had never left Columbus before,” said Weaver. “It was the best thing ever. You learn to adapt, overcome and make the best decisions. We traveled and had an amazing time.”

In 2001, the family returned to Fort Benning, where they bought their first house. Weaver gave birth to their second son, Jacob, and life was good, Weaver recalled.

Then in 2003, Benford received orders for Iraq as a member of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade, which led the initial invasion. She knew her husband was in danger but tried to stay positive.

“You worry, but you can’t let that consume you,” she said. “You focus on day-to-day tasks, everyday things you have to do. You just don’t think about worse-case scenarios. I tried not to even allow myself to go there. I just had peace that he was safe, he’s smart and gonna be fine — and he’ll come home.”

When he returned to Fort Benning in 2004, everything seemed fine. His only complaint was that there were no showers or hot meals over there and they practically lived in the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle.

“Sticky, nasty, hungry, but at that point they really felt they were on a mission,” Weaver said of her husband and his fellow soldiers. “They were focused, knew what the target was, and they all did very well. He came back, and he was just the same guy.”

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