By Ted Waddell
LAKE HUNTINGTON February 25, 2003 Theres nothing like talking about patriotism over a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
A couple of days before she headed off to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, 17-year-old Monique Conrad sat down at the dining room table with her folks, Dave and Erica Barth, to share their feelings about patriotism, a possible war in Iraq, the international peace movement and the lingering effects of 9-11-2001.
The Barths and Monique are proud of their country and arent afraid to show it. American flags and a U. S. Air Force flag flutter in the cold breeze of winter on their front yard near Lake Huntington, the nations flag is displayed in the living room and a whimsical wooden Uncle Sam hung on the wall by the fireplace holds a sign reading Land of the Free.
After the terrorist attacks on American soil, Erica Barth clipped a Wanted: Dead or Alive poster of Osama bin Laden out of a NYC newspaper.
But when she recently saw a photograph of a poster carried by a peace demonstrator at the January 18 rally in Washington, D.C. portraying a likeness of President Bush with the heading Wanted For War Crimes, she sent off a letter to the Sullivan County Democrat.
That infuriated me no end, she said of the coverage of locals traveling to the nations capital to march for peace and against war in Iraq.
I think it was disgusting, she added of the recent articles. I grew up in the 1960s. . . . I was six [years old], and I had an uncle who served in Vietnam. I still have the letters that he wrote when he was over there nobody wanted to be in that war either.
The people who are protesting seem to forget were in a war right now, and we live in an area where a lot of kids are in the service, she said.
A couple of weeks ago, the family expressed their political opinion by hanging a sign out on their front lawn by the highway.
I Stand With President George W. Bush lasted two days.
Whats next, are they going to steal the flags out of our yard? she asked.
Like her mom and step-father, Monique Conrad has relatives who served in the U.S. armed forces: great uncles in the Army and a grandfather who guarded President Dwight Eisenhower during the Korean War.
On October 10, 2002, she herself signed up through the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) while attending Sullivan West at Jeffersonville-Youngsville: four years active duty plus another four years in the reserves.
I joined the Air Force to have a job and get an education, she said. I think everybody should serve their country for a couple of years if you want to live here.
At first, I just talked to the recruiter to get out of class, she added with a shy grin. But then I really liked what they had to offer.
While Conrad didnt sign up for a combat-related job, she knows people do get killed in war.
It would bother me if I was ever called up [to a front-line position], because Im probably going to see some of my friends get killed or badly hurt, she said. Its going to bother me when people start to die.
Monique Conrads boyfriend and next-door neighbor Mark Nicoletti graduated from Sullivan West/J-Y in 2001. Currently an MP at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., the lance corporal plans to volunteer for overseas duty.
As young love often springs forth in a time of looming war, she recently wore her 19-year-old boyfriends dogtags.
As a sign of the times, the dogtags are imprinted with his gas mask size.
Conrad said three of her classmates plan to join the U.S. Army after graduating in June: two girls and a boy.
According to Conrad, a lot of students at the local campus dont even realize whats going on regarding the current world crisis.
She said she recently got into a fight with one of her friends who said he was going to skip the country if the military draft is reinstituted.
Maybe these kids will wake up when they get out in the real world next year, she added.
A few days before Conrad boarded a plane for basic training in the Lone Star State, about 130 people attended a going-away party in her honor. She is looking forward to graduating from six weeks of basic training on March 28.
People here have forgotten what happened on September 11, said Dave Barth, a volunteer firefighter with the Lake Huntington Fire Department.
His viewpoint on military strikes against Iraq?
I think they fully intend to use those weapons [of mass destruction] against us sooner or later, he said. If we dont do something about it, we will have many more situations like September 11.
Erica Barth thinks people are falling asleep in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
These are not nice people, she said of terrorists. They have no regard for life. . . . We have to do something to get rid of them . . . [or] its going to get a lot worse.
For her part, Monique Conrad has always wanted to be like her grandfather, a veteran of the U. S. Army, and has been thinking about serving her country in uniform ever since the 7th grade.
Her definition of patriotism?
Its doing what you can for your country and being proud of where you came from, said the third-generation American, a mix of English, Polish and German bloodlines.