Soldier's duty extends from Army to family

'You have to do the right thing'

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

  
U.S. Army Maj. Jeff Ramsey came home to Hampton a little over a week ago after spending months on the ground in Iraq. However, his return came without yellow ribbons or cheering crowds, but sadness.
   Jeff returned home on emergency leave to attend the funeral of his mother, Pauline Ramsey.
   "She passed away while I was en route from Baghdad," says Jeff, who spoke with the Star this week.
   The Carter County office of the American Red Cross notified Jeff on April 13 that his mother had suffered a stroke. He requested and received emergency leave to return home from Baghdad. When he arrived in Kuwait one day later, a colonel gave him the news of his mother's passing.
   Ramsey, 39, his wife Yong Ae and their son Justin returned to Carter County from MacDill Air Force Base on April 18. He has spent the past week settling his mother's estate and visiting friends he had not seen in some time.
   The trauma of leaving a war zone to bury a loved one made the return home bittersweet to say the least. As an officer with the 82nd Airborne Signal Battalion, Jeff spent eight months in Iraq attached to the Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE). The JCSE provides the data and voice communications framework and support for U.S. military operations across Iraq including the U.S. Department of Defense and foreign governments.
   "We provide communications, voice and data services, set up satellite pipeline and shelters," he said. "We're all over the place."
   Jeff serves as a squadron operations officer with the JCSE directing more than 100 service members from branches of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. He has seen U.S.-led coalition forces dismantle the Saddam Hussein regime and absorb heavy fire from insurgents in Iraq in recent months. Without going into operational details, Ramsey said U.S. forces faced the greatest resistance from terrorists from groups including al-Qaida, the Hizbollah and Hamas that had poured into Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major conflict one year ago Saturday.
   "You see these people who need help and we are doing great things over there, but you've got people coming in that are trying to ignite jihad (holy war)," said Jeff. "They're thugs, organized crime, religious zealots."
   While the United States had planned to turn over power to an independent Iraqi government by June 30, the deadline could be pushed back according to Bush administration officials. From his perspective, Jeff doubted U.S. military forces would be home anytime soon. While presidential administration and political winds change, he said the U.S. military held steadfast to their mission of defending the U.S. Constitution from all enemies both foreign and domestic.
   "One thing the military taught me is, you have to do the right thing," Jeff said. "I don't see us leaving there in the foreseeable future," he said.
   Jeff Ramsey was born in Elizabethton and raised in the Hampton community of Carter County. His father, the late Frank Ramsey, was principal of Siam Elementary and retired from the Carter County School System.
   After graduating from Hampton High School, Jeff enlisted in the Army in 1983 spending three years on active duty with an infantry regiment. He returned home in 1986 and enrolled at East Tennessee State University where he would earn a bachelor's degree in computer science. He later graduated from the ROTC program at ETSU and returned to the Army in 1993 as a second lieutenant. He became signal corps officer with the 50th Signal Battalion under the 35th Signal Brigade based at Fort Bragg, N.C. He was later sent to Korea for a little over two years -- a deployment that would change his life forever.
   "I met my beautiful wife, fell in love and the rest is history," said Jeff.
   When he returned to MacDill last week, he was shocked to find how much his five-year-old son had grown in a few months.
   "I sat down in the floor with him and he carried on a conversation with me," Jeff said with a laugh. "It is amazing how time flies."
   Yong Ae admits the transition from Korea to America has been a challenge, especially the language barrier. She said the family's frequent moves to different bases and her husband's absence were trying.
   "This is my life," she said. "He is a good husband, but I miss him."
   Yong Ae received the Mary Kay Walker Award for her efforts with the family support group at MacDill. The couple also raises two daughters, Su Bin, 15, and Su Hui, 13.
   "When we came here from Korea, they didn't speak a word of English," said Jeff of his daughters. "Now, they're on the honor rolls."
   Jeff said returning home, seeing brothers Richard and Jerry as well as friends had been good despite the difficulty of their reunion.
   He said the family will return to MacDill in early May when the 82nd Signal Battalion returns for training. Jeff expects the unit will rotate back to Iraq on Sept. 1. Although eligible to retire within two years, Jeff said he wanted to pursue a goal of becoming a battalion commander before ending his military career.
   "If I do that," he said, "I'll consider myself successful."