Duty, honor, country Jim and Susan Larsen by David Lias This is the time of the year when American families traditionally get out of town for a few days of rest and relaxation before summer ends.
Major Susan Larsen of Vermillion likely has her bags packed, but she won't be heading to any plush resort.
She will be leaving Vermillion Sunday. Her ultimate destination will be one of the most dangerous places in the world.
She will be traveling to Baghdad, to serve with an Iraqi survey group that is on the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.
It seems that Larsen � an active duty professor of military science with the ROTC program at USD � was destined to eventually be ordered to Iraq.
Within a two-year period, her father, Bill Blatchford, Maskell, NE, who is retired from service in the U.S. Navy, has been to Baghdad and back several times delivering vehicles to fulfill government contracts.
Her husband, Jim, has also traveled to Baghdad this past year on business.
"Susan will be living right outside Baghdad International Airport," Jim Larsen said. "I tend to believe we're the first family that's actually committed everybody to being in Baghdad within a two-year period."
Susan Larsen has been in the military 24 years.
"This is my third combat deployment," she said. "Desert Shield and Desert Storm � I was there for the whole thing, and in Somalia, Operation Restore Hope."
She doesn't yet know what all will be involved in her upcoming deployment to Baghdad.
Even if she was fully briefed about what the future holds, she couldn't talk about it.
"I've been given top secret clearance, so, even if I did I probably wouldn't be able to say much," she said. "The only reason I know that weapons of mass destruction are involved is because the gentleman at brigade that called me to notify me had just gotten back from Iraq, and I asked him what the survey group does that was on my orders, and the only thing he could remember is they gather information for weapons of mass destruction."
Susan Larsen will depart from Vermillion Aug. 8 for Fort Bliss, TX.
"I will be there for one week to get my equipment and weapon and all of the training that I might need," she said. "And then I go to Qatar and stay for a day or two, and then I'll go right into Baghdad."
She will probably arrive in the Iraqi capital city on Aug. 18. She won't return home until early February 2005.
There are two factors that will make this mission unique from her past military experiences: the Larsens' two children, Clayton, 10, and Reilly, 7.
"This is the first time I've left them for the Army for this long," Susan Larsen said, "to go to a war zone above everything else, so this makes it a little more difficult."
Jim Larsen, a disabled veteran, has military experience under his belt. Today, he's retired from the service. His recent travels to Baghdad have been as a Department of the Army civilian contractor.
"Lots of times we were both active duty, had no children, and it was like an adventure when we got called up for something," Susan Larsen said. "It was not a big deal.
"But this time it was a shock when I first found out," she said. "I'm like the last person who thought I would be deployed again."
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Susan Larsen said she feels honored to be ordered to report to Iraq. She is certain her experience in Baghdad will be helpful not only to her, but also to USD ROTC cadets.
"I'm sitting back here, and all the equipment has changed, the way we do things has changed, and I'm sitting behind the power curve," she said. "We're teaching cadets, future lieutenants, and trying to get them prepared for what to expect, and the future holds that they probably will be going over there.
"Everything I know is antiquated, so this will give me a chance to see with my own eyes, and get up to speed with how the military is operating now," Susan Larsen said, "and be able to come back here and have some credibility with our cadets."
She knows she will be going over to Iraq at a time when when a growing number of American citizens are questioning President Bush's decision to go to war.
"I think we should be over there," she said. "I think the president has a hard job and I think after 9/11, we shouldn't be sitting here like sitting ducks."
"It seems it's easy to forget the sheer inhumanity and brutality that Saddam Hussein wielded," added Jim Larsen, who has spoken to scores of Iraqi people who gladly welcome an American presence in their country."
"Here we're sending all of those young kids over there, and we need to support them," Susan Larsen said. "I don't like war, either.
"But that's what we sign on the dotted line for," she said. "We know that, as a last resort, there are times we must go to war. It's our duty."