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MONROE, Ore. -- For parents, siblings and friends of soldiers serving overseas, news of their loved ones is no further than the bulletin board at the local Dari-Mart in Monroe, Ore., according to the Associated Press.
The board features the pictures and mailing addresses of 18 soldiers from the Monroe area currently stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea or elsewhere in the United States.
Dari-Mart clerk Toni Howell has maintained the board since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. But the task has become more difficult in the last two weeks, she said, following the deaths of four Oregon National Guardsmen in Iraq.
All three soldiers killed in a June 4 ambush in Sadr City, Iraq, were from the Guard's 2nd Brigade, 162nd Infantry, based in Cottage Grove, Ore. Another soldier from the unit was killed last Sunday by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad.
Monroe resident Michael Johnson, 22, serves in the same unit. He called his mother, Kathy, last Wednesday to say he was safe. Kathy Johnson said her neighbors know Michael from his picture on the Dari-Mart bulletin board. "They wonder how I'm doing and if I've heard anything," she said. "I tell them I'm doing fine."
Another local soldier, Cody Wheeler, receives e-mails regularly from people living in the small Benton County town. He is stationed north of Baghdad in Balad, where he is protecting convoys. "You're proud of what they're doing there," Wheeler's mother, Jean, said. "Sure, you worry, but you're proud."
Sharon Flory said friends saw a picture of her 21-year-old son, Pat, on the bulletin board and started sending him letters. The notes helped the young soldier get through a difficult time in boot camp, she said. Pat Flory, who attended school with Michael Johnson and Cody Wheeler, is stationed with the U.S. Army in South Korea.
Guard spokesman Capt. Mike Braibish said the families of soldiers need support systems while their loved ones are overseas. Program coordinators plan get-togethers for families, he said, from informal barbecues to information meetings that help them stay in touch with each other.