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Kari Hawkins, USAG Redtstone
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- It's not easy for Laverne Arthur to remember all the military installations she and her husband Ron have visited over the years. There's Fort Campbell, Ky., Fort Riley, Kan., Camp Lejeune, N.C., Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., 29 Palms, Calif., Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Parris Island, S.C., and a whole slew of installations in Okinawa, Japan, to name a few.
Arthur didn't grow up in the military. She wasn't even married to a military guy until way beyond the time he served. And she didn't serve herself.
But she does have children in the military - four to be exact, and each represents a different branch of service.
Ever since 1995, when all three of her sons decided to join the military, Arthur can't remember a Christmas when they have all been home together. But that's OK. She and her husband enjoy the holiday with whichever children and grandchildren can arrange to be with them. It's a sacrifice this proud mom is willing to make to have three sons and a daughter who are happy, successful and productive adults dedicated to serving their country.
"I raised them as a single mom, and they went into the military with my blessing," she said of her Coulter children, which also includes an older daughter who did not choose military service.
"The military offered them lots of good opportunities and tremendous challenges. They've gotten to see lots of different places in the world. The military helped them grow up. They trained them and they helped them all become leaders."
Arthur has been there for each child since the beginning of their military service. She and her husband Ron, who she married in 1997, have been to countless military ceremonies where the children have been honored, deployed and welcomed home.
"Every time, we've tried to be there for them. It might not be both of us. But at least one of us is there for them," Ron Arthur said.
On the couple's front door hangs a four-star Blue Star Service Banner. The stars represent Cory, 37, a Marine; Kevin, 35, a Soldier; John, 33, a seaman, and Julie, 29, an airman. Although each has found their niche in the service they represent, that's not the way it started out.
"John, my youngest son, joined the Marines straight out of high school," Arthur said. "Kevin, who was 20, said 'If John's going into the Marines, I can't do anything less' and he joined. Cory, who was 22, had just got back from a church mission trip. He was working and decided to get married. And then he went into the Marines.
"We were living in Oak Ridge (Tenn.) at the time, and they all went through the same gunnery to join. The gunnery said he had never signed up so many boys from the same family and they were all good boys. None of them had an addiction of any kind."
Because of the timing for training in their military occupational specialties, Kevin actually was the first to go to boot camp in June 1995. John and Cory went in December of the same year.
"My boys all loved it. But it was tough," Arthur said.
Cory, a warrant officer 3 who is married and has one son, still remains a Marine, working as a software trainer in the field of nuclear biological chemical warfare and currently serving in Okinawa, where he recently was involved in supporting President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia.
"Cory has deployed twice. And he's been all over the South Pacific, and all over the world setting up units with software that tracks training that Marines need before they deploy," Arthur said. But both John and Kevin took different paths of military service that led them away from the Marines.
For John, it came down to a matter of personal preference.
"John has always marched to a different drummer, and the Marines want you to fit into their machine," Ron Arthur said. "He is very intelligent and he served as a Marine for four years as a combat engineer. He got out and tried working in the civilian world as a welder for six months. Then he decided he wanted to get into explosives."
John joined the Navy, and trained in the field of explosive ordnance disposal and in Special Forces. A chief petty officer, he is trained for deep hard hat diving, cold water diving and helo-paratrooping (where seaman paratroop from five miles up, jumping high and opening low). He has served on bomb squads in Iraq during two deployments.
"He has done a lot of blowing up road mines. They would find stockpiles of ammunition rounds and destroy them," Arthur said.
During that mission, John was involved in a convoy that came to a halt on the highway when a bus coming from the other direction didn't stop and instead was driven into a crash with the lead vehicle in the Stryker unit.
"The driver did it intentionally," Arthur said. "All the people on the bus were civilians - women and children and old men. John got involved with these people emotionally. He went from person to person trying to help them as much as he could before help got there. I asked him how he did it and he said 'I wiped the tears out of my eyes with one hand while treating them medically with the other, and I did that as I went from one to one to one.'
"That really touched my heart. He's a warrior. But he cares so much."
It was during John's second deployment in 2007 that he earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor. He and a fellow seaman were called to the site of a potential bomb threat.
"They had been there the night before and all was clean, so they knew it was some kind of trap," Arthur said. "As soon as they got out of their truck, there was small arms fire. The first shot took out John's weapon. The second shot ricochet and went through his leg.
"He fell and couldn't get up. His buddy pulled him around the truck. The small arms fire was hitting and pinging everywhere around them. But they got out. John could have returned to the states. But as soon as he was able, he went right back to his men and finished the tour."
Right now, John is in Virginia Beach, Va., where he lives with his wife and two sons. Plans call for him to deploy again on an EOD mission in May 2012.
Kevin's years as a Marine had him serving with "first-in" units, traveling all around the world on missions calling for stabilization. But he didn't like being away from home so much, so when he finished his four-year commitment, Kevin made plans to return home.
"He was out of the Marines and making plans for being a police officer. Then he joined an Army Reserve unit," Arthur said. "He became part of a unit of Reservists that ended up deploying to Iraq. He had been a driver as a Marine, so he knew what it took to make sure your vehicle can withstand the mission. He put metal plates under his seat and in his door, and doubled his windshield.
"He taught his fellow Reservists how to clear a building and how to survive. That's why he was there. It was to save lives."
Along the way, Kevin went from being a Reservist to active duty. Last spring, Kevin returned from his third tour in Iraq, where he served with a military police unit from Fort Riley, charged with training Iraqi police.
It was during his third deployment that Kevin suffered the loss of a good friend -- an Iraqi interpreter who happened to be riding in the lead vehicle of a convoy -- and received his Bronze Star with Valor.
"There was an explosion," Arthur said. "Kevin responded to the first vehicle. He did all he could to save his friend, but he later died from a neck injury."
Now, Kevin, a sergeant who is based at Fort Campbell with his wife and daughter and son, is preparing for a fourth deployment in May 2011 with a Pathfinder unit, which will be based at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, and will be charged with providing airport security.
And then there is Julie, a tech sergeant who joined the Air Force in 2000.
"She joined because her brothers had gone in," Arthur said.
"She wasn't about to let them overdo her," added Ron Arthur.
Julie has served during two deployments, working with security forces.
"Because of her specialty, she is deeply embedded with her team," Arthur said. "During one of her deployments to Iraq, she had a visit from Kevin, who was deployed at the same time. She's just as tough as her brothers."
The Arthur couple moved to Huntsville from Oak Ridge in 1999. While four of Arthur's children are serving, the fifth - oldest sibling Renee - has helped at home, providing a haven for grandchildren during deployments, raising her own son and obtaining a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Alabama-Huntsville. And she helped hold the family together when her mother and stepfather lived in the Pacific, where Ron Arthur test fired missiles as a contractor working on the nation's Ground Based Missile Defense program.
Renee and the family have also been through the heartache of losing Renee's 18-month-old daughter Morgan to cancer.
"This family has been through quite a bit. But this was the hardest ... losing this little girl," Ron Arthur said. "She's our guardian angel."
Renee and her son now live in Colorado Springs with Julie.
"Those of us who can are all going to Fort Campbell for Christmas with Kevin and his family," Arthur said. "We've already sent our big Christmas tree up there. Julie and Renee and Renee's son will be there. John will stay in Virginia Beach, since he's getting ready for a deployment. Cory will stay in Okinawa. That's one of the sad parts. We are never all together at the same time."
But Arthur said the military does encourage their servicemembers to stay close to their families, despite long absences and faraway assignments.
"My kids have had such great commanding officers, and family has been important to all of them," Arthur said. "When Kevin was in Iraq, after the explosion, his commander wanted him to call home so that we would know he was OK."
Military service isn't just part of her children. Arthur's husband of about 13 years served as an airborne Ranger with the 82nd Airborne Division, and is a Vietnam era veteran. He served during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s. He later went on to work in the Apollo program at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and then in Ground Based Missile Defense.
"We married in 1997, after the boys had joined the service," Arthur said. "They all admired him."
"I am proud to be part of this family," said Ron Arthur, who brought his own three children - Danielle, Denise and David - to the family mix.
"I'm just really proud of all of them," Arthur said with a smile. "My family has always been patriotic."