Iola family strong on military

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Becky French poses with sons Nick Myers, left, a senior airman home on furlough from Iraq, and Zach Myers, who just finished Army basic training.

Tales about the military are second nature when Iolan Becky French’s four sons all get together, as they have been now and again during the Thanksgiving holiday period.
Zach French is just out of Army basic training and Senior Airman Nick Myers is home on furlough during his fourth deployment to Iraq. Jacob French, who lives in Topeka and works as an Iola firefighter and EMT, was in damage control during his Navy days. Ben Myers, employed at Cameron Surface Systems, was an Army combat engineer and served in Iraq.
Nick Myers is stationed at a U.S. air base at Balac, north of Baghdad. He is chief of a three-man crew that maintains the C-130 Hercules, the Air Force’s workhorse cargo plane.
“My crew looks after its electronics, hydraulics and engines and I’m responsible for making sure it meets scheduled missions,” Myers said.
Flying frequently in what still are stressful combat circumstances, it is not unusual for a Hercules aircraft to encounter problems that forces it to abort a mission and land down range.
When that occurs, “we to go and recover it,” Myers said. That involves repairs in the field, which can put Myers and his crew in harm’s way.
Off-base missions don’t happen too often, though, Myers said, “The Hercules is a tough aircraft. It could land on one of the gravel roads around Iola.”
Myers is a 2006 graduate of Iola High School. After graduation he followed the route of his brothers into the military. “That’s where I belonged,” he surmised. He intends to make the Air Force a career and anticipates being deployed to Afghanistan, where the war on terror has heated up in the past few months, after his current tour in Iraq is completed.
Hostilities in Iraq haven’t subsided altogether, Myers said, but aren’t as intense as they were.
“Used to be we’d have seven or eight mortar attacks a day,” he said of his location. “Now, it’s down to one or two a week.”
Even so, it’s not a stroll in the park, Myers allowed. There have been some close calls, he said, without going into specifics.
“We have made a lot of progress in Iraq,” he said of achieving military objectives and stabilizing the country’s government.
Day-to-day life can even gets a little humdrum, he said. The weather is a challenge. During the warmer times of the year temperatures reach 120 degrees during the day and sometimes don’t fall below 100 at night. In winter, they range from the 40s at night to 50s during the day. In December 2007, snow fell on Balac, “the first time in nine years. That was something, to see it snow in the desert.”

WITH HIS basic and individual training completed, Zach French next will concentrate on completing his second year of college at Independence Community College, where he is enrolled on a football scholarship.
“I was recruited as a tackle,” said Zach at 6-foot-3, “but I lost so much weight in basic (training) that they’re going to switch me to tight end.”
French graduated from IHS in May. After earning his associate’s degree — he completed most of his first-year requirements at Allen County Community College while in high school — French, 18, intends to volunteer for deployment to Iraq and then pursue a military career in the Kansas National Guard. He has been a member of an 891st Engineer Battalion unit at Coffeyville the past year-and-a-half.