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Remote N.M. Town Has 12 in U.S. Military

April 10, 2003

SEBOYETA, N.M. (AP) _ This remote New Mexico outpost is quiet most days, its dirt roads barren save for a meandering cow or the flash of a dog darting between adobe homes.

But for the 500 people who live here, life is far from tranquil.

A dozen residents from Seboyeta serve in the military. And as the war in Iraq unfolds, questions are everywhere: What have you heard? Are you holding up OK?

To a person, everybody in town has a link to one of the 12 soldiers _ they are all sons, daughters, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins in the 60 or so families here.

``We know them all,″ said Debbie Lopez, whose son is deployed in the Persian Gulf. ``We’ve known them since they were babies and we’ve seen them grow up.″

Seboyeta, hidden in foothills amid a rugged landscape of sandstone cliffs and remnants of ancient volcanoes, has produced countless soldiers since its days as a Spanish military outpost in the early 1800s.

But never have so many been absent at once. And around town, an informal, anxious accounting of their whereabouts takes place each day.

Three soldiers already are fighting in Iraq. Others are in South Korea, Turkey and Guam. Three are aboard Navy ships in U.S. ports. The closest are stationed with National Guard units in New Mexico. All could find themselves in harm’s way at any time.

``They’re from such a small little town, but they’re out there defending our country. I do feel proud,″ said Lopez, who hasn’t seen her son in more than eight months. ``Who would ever think anyone from here would end up doing something major like they’re doing now?″

The absences have shifted daily routines. There are regular phone calls to check on the soldiers; hopeful cards exchanged between families; paper flags pasted in windows; a fire chief who keeps his small station decorated with all the yellow ribbon he can find.

Just north of town, a religious shrine has been carved into the sandstone cliffs. It’s a gathering place for families who come to pray at a statue of the Virgin Mary.

On Saturday, residents filled the small adobe church in the heart of town. ``Let us pray that they come home soon, safe and sound,″ the Rev. Larry Bernard told the congregation. After Mass came a rush toward the red, white and blue-bordered banner with photographs of those stationed far from home.

Many of Seboyeta’s soldiers joined up to get a better education or employment. Jobs are hard to come by in a place isolated at the dead-end of a rural road 50 miles west of Albuquerque.

Lydia Garcia, 20, joined the Air Force so she could study civil engineering. Soon after, she found herself stationed in South Korea, which made her family nervous.

``At the time she was leaving, that’s when the North Korean president started all that hassle. That’s when I started to get scared,″ said her mother, Jean Garcia. ``She sat me down and gave me a good talk. She told me to quit being afraid because her first duty was going to protect the United States.″

Senior Airman Amanda Anzures makes sure planes at a U.S. air base in Kuwait are ready for strikes on Iraq. Her father, Lee Anzures, said it’s difficult knowing that his 21-year-old daughter is so close to the battle.

But Anzures, an Air Force veteran himself, was quick to note that his daughter is battle-ready.

``She volunteered and she knew what she was getting into,″ he said. ``Going into the military, you’re expecting to do more than what a lot of people talk about _ that it’s just education. You better be ready for war. She was ready and we talked about it.″

Debbie Lopez is scared, too, but thankful that her son, who has a wife and two young children, is not on the front lines. Damian Lopez, 28, is aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln _ one of the first ships sent to the Persian Gulf in preparation for war.

``I feel for some of these families,″ she said. ``How many of them are not going to come home?″

At the most difficult moments, support from neighbors only goes so far. Jean Garcia said it’s her own faith _ and her daughter’s courage _ that pull her through.

``That’s all I can do, pray and put her in God’s hands,″ she said.

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