NW soldiers' holiday trip home comes to a halt

NW soldiers' holiday trip home comes to a halt
Shandi Gillespie describes the plight she and other military families find themselves in.
Two hundred Northwest soldiers are stuck in Wisconsin for the holidays - even though the National Guard hoped to fly them home before they head off for war.

Military regulations got in the way - so now their families are digging deep to spend Christmas together.

It's the last chance for these soldiers to see their loved ones before they head off to the Middle East. It doesn't make it any easier that the flight home is now costing them big.

Newlywed Shandi Gillespie and her husband of Seattle are one local couple that's caught up in the frustrating mess.

The Washington National Guard hoped to be able to fly home her husband's unit during a break in training in Wisconsin.

"It was pretty exciting, and yesterday I got the phone call that they will not be paying for their tickets home," she says.

It turns out that all 200 of the Northwest soldiers in the training unit are stuck in Wisconsin for Christmas - unless they foot the bill for a flight.

They were counting on the National Guard, which originally said its own aircraft would fly the troops back.

But Lt. Keith Kosik says, "Unfortunately, after thoroughly researching that through the regulations, we found we're not able to do that. We're prohibited by the regulations from doing that."

Shandi Gillespie says this could be her last chance to see her husband. His unit deploys right after the holidays.

She ended up spending $500 for a plane ticket, but she worries about other military families that are broke.

"What if he gets killed or something," she says. "You know, it's the last time you're going to be able to see that family member. And imagine families that couldn't afford to bring them home - how are they going to feel if something happens to that soldier?"

Her husband repairs tanks and transports damaged in combat - and is often in risky situations.

Shandi Gillespie says, "Those are some of the things he'll be working on - same thing in Afghanistan."

He previously served in Iraq, then joined the Washington National Guard and just recently learned he would be re-deployed.

Shandi says all the families in her husband's unit need the chance to spend Christmas together.

"I really, really hope that they can get it together and bring everybody home," she says.

The Washington National Guard is looking at its options to help these families. At the same time, other groups are stepping forward with fund-raising campaigns.


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