Nathan Russell used to throw the football with his dad, Richard, almost every night until November when Richard's National Guard Unit was activated for duty in the Persian Gulf. Saturday afternoon Nathan got the chance to toss the ball with some football players from Brigham Young University.
Nathan and his family attended a carnival-style party organized by members of the Utah National Guard 144th Medical Evacuation Unit. The party was held to offer family members of the 144th an afternoon of support and fun, said Vicki Zollinger, one of organizers of the event."We'll do this as many times as it takes to keep this unit up and happy," said Zollinger, whose husband, Mike, and brother-in-law, Chuck, are in the gulf. She was also responsible for the attendance of the BYU football players. She said she invited them because she's a fan, but also "because they seem devoted towards families."
"I think it (the party) is really fun, and it's a good out for the kids," said Shirley Russell, Nathan's mother. Shirley Russell doesn't think Saddam Hussein is serious about peace, although she's hopeful that peace will come soon.
"I think his (Saddam's) ideas are completely different from ours. I don't think he even understands things the way we do," said Shirley Russell, holding a snowcone in one hand and cotton candy in the other.
"I'd like to straighten Saddam Hussein out," said Halli Russell, Nathan's sister, who had just returned from the fishing pond. Nathan says he doesn't like the war, but said he thinks his dad is doing a good thing.
"I want him to come home soon," Nathan said of his father.
The party was free to family members of the 144th, and activities included a fishing pond, free snowcones, cotton candy, cookies, face painting, nail painting, balloon volleyball and basketball. There was a booth where family members could have a picture taken to put on a button, T-shirt or poster. A banner covered with messages of love and support was prepared to be sent to the unit in the gulf.
One woman shook hands with the BYU players and was told by Lenny Gomes, "He (her husband) is the real hero, not us. I totally support them 100 percent." He had a flag painted on his forehead with the words "Try to burn this flag" around it.
Ten BYU football players attended the festivities. "We don't have much of a chance to support the troops themselves, so we like to support the families. Kids support football, and we support kids," said Mike Jenkins, center for BYU, as kids flocked around him to collect an autograph or just say hi.
"A lot of people have the misconception that the war is about oil, but it's about people - human beings, oppression and poverty. We're over there doing the right thing," Jenkins said.
Jean Ciak and her daughters were having buttons made for her husband, Staff Sgt. Larry W. Ciak. She, too, doubts that Saddam is sincere about peace.
"I can't ride an emotional rollercoaster. I'm not pessimistic, I'm realistic. I have to be realistic and hope," said Jean Ciak.