Part V of Centre View's series on local residents serving in the War in Iraq is about a Marine who graduated from Chantilly High and an Army officer who graduated from Centreville High.
After doing a four-year stint in the Marines and then joining the inactive reserves, Oak Hill's Brian Nelson signed up for active reserves in October. It's something he had to do, said his mother, Carol Lauffenburger: "He said that, if the U.S. and Iraq went to war, then he 'needed to be there.'"
"He didn't have to go — he volunteered for this," said dad Jack Lauffenburger. "And I couldn't be prouder of him — especially that he feels as strongly about his country at age 25."
A 1996 Chantilly High grad, Nelson couldn't wait to begin military service. He went into the Marines, right out of high school, returned home in 2000 and went to work for a Sterling company, Heckler & Koch, which manufactures firearms, primarily for military and law-enforcement use.
Soon, he was enjoying playing video games and hanging out with his friends again at Jimmy's, a popular Herndon nightspot. And his family was delighted to have him back home. (His dad works for an insurance company, and his mom does administrative work in a Fair Oaks doctors office. Brother Justin, now 16, is a Chantilly High junior).
But as fall 2002 approached, all the talk about Iraq made Nelson decide to join the active reserves. He participated in monthly drills and training, and on Feb. 1 he got word that he'd be deploying. "He kept warning us he wasn't going to be here much longer, but I kept thinking things would be settled diplomatically and we wouldn't go to war," said his mother. "But then it hits you. I'm hoping that all these guys will come home soon."
Meanwhile, Nelson just had one weekend to get ready and report to Fort Detrick, Md. After a week, he went to Camp Lejeune, N.C., for two weeks training there. He left for Kuwait on Feb. 22 — the day before his 25th birthday.
He's now a sergeant with E Company in the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion. He received light armored vehicle training in Maryland. Said Carol Lauffenburger: "He's always been interested in weapons and really likes what he's doing."
His dad says everybody at home misses Brian, but has an "overwhelming sense of pride" in him. "As a parent, you always worry," he said. "But I know he's doing what he wants to do — defend his country."
However, Nelson couldn't communicate with his family since about a week before the March 19 bombing — just before Coalition troops crossed Iraq's border. Said Jack Lauffenburger: "His was one of the first Marine units that went up the east side of the country."
Until a few weeks ago, Rick Levanthal of Fox-TV News was embedded with Nelson's battalion so, from watching TV, Nelson's family could figure out where he was. In fact, his battalion was the one that found the seven American POWs.
"The 3rd LAR was the one that kicked the door down and went in," said his mom. "I know Brian would love that and would be smiling from ear to ear to be a part of it." Added his dad: "He's the only person from both sides of the family who's been in the military, but we're learning all about it."
Some of Nelson's letters took three weeks to reach his parents from Kuwait, and his dad said they're crossing their fingers that he's received their letters. His mom said lots of the mail deliveries to Iraq are just now arriving because several of the Marines have had many changes of address.
Carol Lauffenburger feels better about Brian being over there now, than she did before, with "the danger of the war and the added threat of chemical use." And little tidbits on the news help her pinpoint where he is. For example, she said, on April 13, he was in Tikrit. His unit sometimes guards the supply line, too, she said, so he could be going back and forth between areas.
"When things are stabilized a little bit, we're hoping he'll be home," she said. "We'll be waiting for that call."
Lauffenburger says Brian's brother misses him, too. "Brian has a special sense of humor, and he and Justin like horsing around and teasing each other," she said. "Justin says it's not as much fun around here at dinnertime without him."