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Petty Officer 3rd Class Benjamin Taylor

Stories and updates from western Montana military personnel

A Missoula man will be in the first large unit to come home from the Persian Gulf.

A huge welcome is expected when the USS Abraham Lincoln returns to Everett, Wash., its home port. Benjamin Taylor, an aviation support equipment technician, will be on board, according to his mother, Kathy Wilson of Missoula.

The nuclear-powered carrier was recently relieved of duty by the USS Nimitz. No arrival date has been set, but it will take about a month for the ship to cruise home. The Lincoln and its seven-ship battle group have been at sea longer than any U.S. carrier group now on duty, according to the Oregon News. The Lincoln and its 5,500 crew members had been headed home on New Year's Day following a six-month deployment that began last July 20, when it was ordered to turn around and head for the Gulf.

Thursday, Wilson wrote about her son:

Ben attended all his years of school here from kindergarten starting at Paxson, graduating from Sentinel in 1999. He has been enlisted in the Navy since July 2000. Area of work is mechanical support for aerospace equipment. Prior to his enlistment he attended the University of Montana and worked at Jakers as a cook.

As Ben's mother and a retired Army Reserve Nurse Corps RN, I am extremely proud that Ben has elected to provide service to our country. Over the past few months as we have watched the variety of demonstrations in our community, we have been reminded of the overwhelming privilege we possess for freedom of thought and speech. It has not been unusual to have friends ask if we are angered by anti-war marches, as Ben continues an extended deployment. To live in a community that possesses an honoring of diversity has been one of the best parts of living in Missoula. To realize that Ben and his shipmates are upholding that privilege (freedom of choice and speech) for us and extending it to others puts true light on the concept of a democratic nation. It is by this dedication that those privileges may be practiced.

We are very thankful for those who have supported Ben through letters and e-mails: church, family, colleagues, relatives and friends. Hearing from people from home has helped to keep the morale up on the ship. The crew longs for home, but has put that to the side to complete the mission.

As any other parent would be, though, we are elated at the thought of his return and plan to be dockside in Washington when that aircraft carrier pulls in, along with his siblings, spouses and nieces - all also Missoula residents.

Nickolas Kyle Neilan

I am currently deployed on the USS Anzio, a guided missile Aegis cruiser. We are attached to the TR battle group. This is my first Mediterranean cruise. I am originally from Missoula, living there the first nine years of my life, and then lived in Bigfork until I left for the Navy when I was 19.

I frequently check the Missoulian Web page and try and keep up with events going on back home. I do not have a lot of free time, but the time I do have is spent in e-mails and reading.

On April 2, responding to a request from a reporter, Neilan wrote:

Good evening or should I say afternoon. I am writing you from onboard the USS Anzio CG-68. We are nine time zones away and it's the middle of the evening here. I only have limited time to write this e-mail due to my watch rotation. Not trying to sound important.

Today is my ship's 71st day underway this year. Yes, that is correct, 71 days. We have been in one port and the rest of the time has been sailing the seas of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

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Meant to send this out a long time ago, but our e-mail went down. We are now going on almost 80 days at sea this year. Too much fun. Today is beer day. That means we have been out to sea for 45 straight days.

It is time for me to go eat chow and get to watch. Hope you have a great day.

Maj. Mary E. Swan

I have been serving as the deputy public affairs officer for the Combined Joint Task Force 180 in Bagram, Afghanistan, since 24 December 02. I am a native of Great Falls but have made my home in Missoula for the past four years. I have served as a member of the 120th Fighter Wing/Montana Air National Guard since April of 1987. During that time, I have served as the Equal Opportunity/Human Relations education officer, the Chief of Equal Opportunity and most recently the Wing's public affairs officer. In my civilian career I have worked in human services as a staff development specialist in state and private nonprofit agencies that serve people with developmental disabilities for the past 14 years. I have a bachelor's degree in social science for secondary education and political science from Carroll College.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Woodard

Mom Diane Woodard, a teacher and technology coordinator for Superior Public Schools, passed this on late last month:

My son Travis is currently serving in the Gulf on the USS Valley Forge, a guided missile cruiser which is a part of the USS Constellation battle group. We were able to stay in touch until two weeks ago when he was moved to an Australian ship to assist with boarding. Over the past four years my son has been part of a boarding team that has searched for drugs on foreign ships. Trav's favorite part of his job is rappelling up and down the side of foreign ships for search-and-seizure assignments. Since the Gulf war, he has been boarding to enforce sanctions against Iraq.

My son has a wife who is living in Superior and commutes to work in Missoula. He is scheduled to get out of the Navy at the end of June.

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