Tue, May 21

Still in Action<br><i>Iraq conflict not over for U.S. soldiers</i>

Photo courtesy Sheryl Johnson

SGT. DUSTIN GUMP, formerly of the Verde Valley, is on duty in Baghdad.

Since May 1, as coalition forces shifted from Operation Iraqi Freedom into an army of occupation, 32 American troops have been killed by hostile fire. Another 47 have died in accidents. Six British military policemen have died as well.

Among those post-war casualties was Staff Sgt. William T. Latham, of Kingman, who died June 18 from injuries suffered in a May 19 raid.

Many troops who were involved in the war are now in safer confines, but more soldiers and Marines have replaced them during Iraq’s rebuilding phase. This second wave hasn’t received quite the same attention – in the form of gift packages and notes of support – that the predecessors did.

Sheryl Johnson, of Cottonwood, can happily say that her son, Supply Sgt. Rusty Gump, is now stationed in Germany. However, her second son, Sgt. Dustin Gump, a scout, is patrolling in the Baghdad area.

And Gump, like most Americans abroad, has a hankering for sights and sounds of home. Johnson hopes the Verde Valley community will continue to support the troops through goodies and cards.

Dustin Gump thinks he will remain in the Middle East for another six to nine months.

“I hate this place,” he wrote to his mother recently. “It is too hot, and you can never get a good night’s sleep because of all the explosions or because we are running missions. I should not have joined to be a scout. Two of my friends have been killed yesterday, and five more are in critical condition.”

Gump has many friends in the Verde Valley, and Johnson wants them all to know that he is well and misses everyone.

“What my son told me in a previous letter was that he wanted bug spray, itch cream, some spray to keep the bugs from biting him and Little Debbie snacks,” Johnson said.

Like his brother before him, Dustin has assured that any packages sent to him will be shared with his comrades.

Friends and strangers alike can send goods and notes to: