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Howland family awaits son's call



Published: Sun, April 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The last time they heard Erik's voice was the day before the war started.

By WILLIAM K. ALCORN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

HOWLAND -- Like a lot of other worried Americans with loved ones fighting in the Iraq war, Robin and Craig Roberts are glued to their television sets hoping to get an inkling about their son's welfare.

Though divorced, Robin and Craig are drawn together in common concern about Pvt. E-2 Erik Roberts, serving with the Army's 101st Airborne, 3rd Brigade, Company B, based at Baghdad's international airport.

The last they heard from Erik was a five-minute phone call from Kuwait at 7 a.m. March 20, the day after the war began.

The call came to Robin on her cell phone, and she connected Craig and Erik's girlfriend, Lauren Alfreno, to the call.

There was little time to talk. The phone call automatically cut off in five minutes.

"We just told him we love him and are praying for him and to stay safe," Robin said.

Robin, of Howland, is marketing representative for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, selling advertising for chamber publications.

Craig, of Hubbard, is a special agent with the Youngstown office of the Internal Revenue Service. They have two other children, a son, Colin, and a daughter, Cara.

Lauren, of Howland, is a student at Kent State University Trumbull Campus.

The only other communications from Erik have been two letters from Kuwait dated March 5, both received after the Iraq invasion, the last one Friday.

The first just asked his mother to send film.

Letter to Grandma

But in the second group of letters, received late this week, Erik told his grandmother, Carol E. Feddish of Howland: "Whatever happens, know I love you. You just keep yourself healthy so we can go to church and you [can] cook some food. I love you, Gram."

To his mother, he said: "I read the Bible a lot. Send me protein bars ... and a pair of wrist wraps. How's Cara doing in school?"

In both his letters he sent his love, and said: "I'll be back."

The Roberts and Lauren also went to Fort Campbell, Ky., to see him, as it turned out, just three days before he left for overseas.

Robin said she has sent at least 15 care packages to Erik filled with, among other things, vacuum-packed tuna and his favorite protein bars. She has also written letters but does not know if he has received the packages or the letters. The mail is backed up six to eight weeks, she said.

"We hope to hear from him before his birthday," Robin said. He'll be 20 on April 28.

During the first days of the war, Robin said, she watched television constantly, channel surfing, trying to find out anything she could about Erik's outfit.

Her mind was eased somewhat when she discovered that CNN reporter Ryan Chilcote was embedded with the 3rd Brigade and she could find out what the unit is doing through his reports.

"But I still wake up in the middle of the night and turn on the TV," Robin said.

"Watching the war on TV is a blessing. But, it can also be very scary when soldiers are killed and they don't tell you what outfit they are with," Robin said.

Worrisome news

One thing she said was very upsetting was learning about a Blackhawk helicopter that went down March 30. The 101st is an air assault unit and is often flown on missions by helicopter.

"I haven't heard anything since. But, as long as no one from the military shows up at your door, you're OK," she said.

Robin said she has done a lot of research on the 101st Airborne and is taping everything shown on TV about the 101st "so Erik can show his children someday."

Erik's family also keeps track of the 3rd Brigade through newspaper articles and Internet messages sent from Erin Kidd, wife of Co. B's commander, Capt. Daniel W. Kidd.

A New York Times article let the Roberts know that that Erik's Co. B had seen action at the Special Republican Guard's headquarters outside Baghdad.

Even though the war around Baghdad seemed last week to be going strongly in the United States' favor, Craig continues to be "very concerned" for his son's safety.

"It's going to be a dangerous time even when the war is over. From what I've heard, the 101st is going to provide security in Baghdad," he said.

"I love him and I'm very proud of him. I want him and all the soldiers to come home safe," Craig said.

It had been a longtime dream of Erik's to be a soldier. Erik joined the Army under the delayed-entry program while a senior at Howland High School, and went to basic training July 3, 2002, at Fort Benning, Ga., earning the top physical training score in his platoon.

He graduated from Airborne School in November 2002 and is slated for Ranger School when he returns from Iraq.

Craig said Erik was proud of what he was doing and the training he was going through.

When he was little, Robin said, he would go to sleep with G.I. Joes. "I had to pry them out of his hands."

9/11 not forgotten

His mother said Erik feels an obligation as a free U.S. citizen to protect the country from further terrorism, especially after 9/11.

"I think too often people take things for granted, almost like they have forgotten 9/11," she said.

"We as a free nation need to turn our focus to supporting and praying for our troops overseas," she said.

"I'm very proud of him. He's very strong-minded and has a very strong faith in God," Robin said.

"What I worry about, the 101st is going to Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home, that seems to be the final battle," she said.

Craig and Robin both said being in the Army has had a positive effect on their son.

"Sometimes I sit here thinking, a year ago he was in high school," Craig said.

& lt;a href=mailto:alcorn@vindy.com & gt;alcorn@vindy.com & lt;/a & gt;




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