Pueblo County, Colorado
Contributed by Jean, Gracie, Phyllis and Karen.
Colorado Springs Gazette 4-29-2004 - Major Nana - Pueblo Reservist Takes Nursing, Nurturing Skills to Iraq - Madeline Belarde is packing her footlocker with the essentials: family photos, a Bible, her father's military flag and a bottle of Miss Clairol. The 51-year-old Pueblo West grandmother is headed to Iraq for a year. She leaves Colorado on Monday with her younger comrades in the 1835th Medical Detachment Combat Stress Control Unit. She'll trade in her sensible nursing shoes for combat boots to provide mental health services to troops. It is Maj. Belarde's first call to active duty in 17 years in the Army Reserve, which until now meant an annual two-week mission away from family. "The butterflies of, 'Wow, we are really going away,' are setting in," she said. News of the matriarch's deployment this month stunned her large, close-knit family. Belarde never considered trying to get out of it, but her family did. "It crossed my mind," said her husband, Jim, getting nods of agreement from others in the room. "There is no safe place over there." The outside of their Pueblo West home is already decorated with yellow ribbons. I feel proud of her. And sad. I'm going to miss her," said her granddaughter Taylor, 11, wearing a "My Nana wears combat boots" T-shirt that the family had printed in her honor. Taylor is about the same height as her petite "GI Nana," who easily passed her age level's fitness test of 11 push-ups and 31 sit-ups in less than two minutes, and running 2 miles in less than 24 minutes. "Clinically, as a psychiatric nurse, I am ready," she said. "Militarily, I am getting 'trained up,' as they say. When I have a meltdown, I might cry a little while, but I am able to pull myself together. My brother-in-law always told me to enjoy the journey, whatever the journey is. So that is going to be my motto." And, she added, "I am going to get buffed." Although she joins a number of other grandparents serving in Iraq, her deployment has garnered national media attention from "Good Morning, America" and "Today." "It's the same thing of 'How do you feel, because of your age?'" she said. "Being female and older, you are setting a standard for the soldiers. The young soldiers who come in contact with me, their moms and dads can be assured they'll have someone taking care of them." Army Reserve Maj. Rod Tague said Belarde is "the nurturer" in the 1835th unit that, since its April 5 activation, has trained daily at a reserve center in Aurora. "She makes sure we have lots of snacks," he said. "She says, 'Are you warm enough? Are you getting enough to eat?' In clinical training she asks very practical questions that others may overlook." That doesn't detract from her soldier side. "The fact that she is a grandmother, mother and wife doesn't prevent her from being a soldier. She is very dedicated," Tague said. He doesn't know where in Iraq the unit will be based. "Eighteen months is the time frame they gave us," Tague said. "We'll be on the ground in Iraq at least for one year." The unit will board a bus Monday to Fort Riley, Kan., for a month of training in weapons and chemical warfare. Belarde will carry a gun and a gas mask in Iraq. She'll sleep on a cot in a tent and, if she is lucky, will have access to a portable toilet instead of a modified 50-gallon drum. In her trunk is a plain plastic bucket that can serve all hygiene purposes, if need be. "If anyone can do it, she can do it," said her daughter, Julie Aragon. This is, after all, the Nana who tries to get family members to jog with her at 5 a.m. Usually she doesn't have any takers, but this weekend she will. She'll also spend her dwindling time at home rollerblading with the four grandkids – and no doubt will make sure they have enough underwear and socks to last them the next 18 months. Motherhood was Belarde's primary mission while raising three children: Julie, 29, Terre, 26 and Christopher, 23. She went back to school in her 30s and is now a nurse manager at Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo. Her upbringing as a "military brat" led her to join the Reserves. The oldest of 10 brothers and sisters who all live in Colorado, her house is the family gathering place – 72 people showed up at Christmas. The extended family often spends holidays, vacations and weekends together. "She is at the center," Aragon said. "I'm the planner, the organizer, the doer," said Belarde, who already has a trip to Disney World lined up for when she returns. Said her husband: "She's the world's problem solver. I tease her that it's a quality that drew me to her and it's the one that makes me crazy."
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