I first met Gayle Ann on the side of the road, of all places. It was shortly after Sarah Palin had announced her run for Vice President as John McCain's running mate. I was leaving work and approaching a busy intersection when I saw a woman in a bright red jacket, standing on the side of the road with many others, waving signs. I love photography and wanted a picture of her with her sign which was dedicated to the Marines, so I pulled over and parked my car.
I approached her with my camera in my hand and told her I loved her sign and asked if I could take her picture. She was really excited and said, "Sure!" She grabbed a couple of buddies and I took the picture. Then she proceeded to introduce me to many of the people who were out there waving signs for Sarah Palin. One of them was none other than Chuck Heath. We had a wonderful conversation, and then he introduced me to Sally. From that day, I was out there whenever I could get the chance, waving signs right up to the morning of the election.
Gayle Ann with many supporters, including Chuck Heath (with the hockey stick!)
One thing I can say about Gayle Ann is that she loves her kids and two of her kids happen to be US Marines. Ted and Ruthann were recently profiled in an article in our local newspaper, the Frontiersman. Both were home on leave at the same time, and mom was very excited to have them home. Ted has been in Afghanistan and I have been with Gayleann when she has gotten calls from her son overseas. Everything stops for those calls, and rightly so. This is a woman who has her priorities straight, and children who respect their mom enough to keep in touch. You can tell the love in this family.
I met Ted when he was home on leave in March 2009. This was when Sarah Palin came the the Valley Republican Women's Club meeting to speak, and she had the opportunity to meet Ted. At the Wasilla picnic in August 2009, two days before Sarah Palin turned over the reigns to current governor Sean Parnell, Gayle Ann was again in the crowd and had the opportunity to receive a Blue Star Banner from Sarah Palin at a ceremony, held every year during the picnic, to honor such families.
Ted and mom Gayle Ann with Former Governor Sarah Palin and members of the Valley Republican Women's Club Board of Directors in March 2009
Gayle Ann receiving two blue star banners from Former Governor Sarah Palin, who herself has a son in the US Army and is a blue star mom
Gayle Ann was so excited just a few short days ago. Ruthann had just come home, and the family and many friends gathered at the airport to await Ted's arrival from Afghanistan. Tonight, as I write this, the family is again at the airport, sending Ted back to the Middle East. I know Gayle Ann's heart is very heavy and full. She has spoken of it, and I ask all of you who read this to pray for her, for her family, and for all the sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, whose braves soldiers and sailors do so much to defend our freedoms. Please enjoy these photos and read the original story from the Frontiersman, which is also linked here and copied below.
Mom and daughter
Mom anxiously awaiting her son's arrival at the airport with family and friends
Mom said she couldn't squeeze him tight enough
OUR NEIGHBORS: They're patriotic "to the Corps"
BY TODD L. DISHER
WASILLA — With a son deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and a daughter stationed in San Diego, the Swanson’s are not afraid to show their sympathies.
It starts with the rock painted as an American flag marking the entrance of their driveway. Farther back, the real Stars and Stripes fly next to the scarlet and gold of the Marine Corps’ flag. The entry way is covered in USMC bumper stickers and plaques. With a red door and blue shutters, the theme is carried throughout.
“I am extremely proud. I am very patriotic anyway, so it just intensified that,” mother Gayle Ann said of her two Marine children. “I believe in what they are doing.”
Theodore joined first. He graduated from Wasilla High School in the winter of 2007, a semester before his peers. He immediately headed to boot camp in San Diego and returned to Wasilla for the spring graduation ceremony dressed in full military blues.
“I joined the military so I could get college money and wouldn’t start off my life broke,” Theodore said, adding he chose the Marines because “they are the best of the best.”
The 20-year-old is now a radio operator on leave after the first five months of his 12-month deployment.
RuthAnn saw her brother graduate boot camp and felt that feeling common to all younger children.
“Sibling rivalry,” she said when asked her reason for enlisting. “I had nothing else planned ... and said ‘Yeah, I think I’ll join. That will be fun.’”
After graduating from Wasilla High in 2008 — leading the student processional next to her uniformed brother — RuthAnn went to boot camp in South Carolina.
“The female drill instructors are harder on you,” RuthAnn said. “They want to prove the females are just as good if not better than everyone else.”
Other than that, she said, boot camp for women is identical to the program men go through. There is the gas chamber, the weapons training and the physical fitness drills.
“It’s an adventure. ... I got pepper sprayed. I shot a grenade launcher. Most of the other girls I graduated with from Wasilla are —,” RuthAnn paused, thinking how to gently phrase her statement, “— still in Wasilla.”
She is now 19 and works as a supply clerk in San Diego. RuthAnn described barracks living in terms familiar to any first-year undergraduate. The shared rooms have mini fridges and microwaves, and the rumors fly fast and vicious. It’s a world away from Afghanistan.
The first month after arriving, Theodore lived in a tent on base with his unit. It was hot, he said, saying temperatures reached upwards of 140 degrees. But they found ways to cope.
His unit built a swimming pool out of stacked water bottle cases and some tarps. The second version incorporated an old mortar pit and sat 20 to 25 people, he said.
Things are starting to cool down now, and Theodore said he has moved out of base. For a while, the stars were his only roof.
“That kind of sucked,” he said.
Things are looking up now, he said, because he was outfitted with a tent before the snows came.
Members of his radio battalion accompany the infantry on foot patrols. They serve as the link between command and the boots on the ground, in as much of harm’s way as any regular grunt.
“It’s been really, really hard as a mom to know that he’s over there,” Gayle Ann said. “There’s never a time when it’s not just hovering.”
Gayle Ann said she stayed up with the news when Theodore was first deployed. After awhile, it got too hard to hear about it every day. As previously mentioned, she believes in her son’s mission, but she’s grateful he can call once a week to check in.
RuthAnn views her brother’s deployment with a Marine’s perspective.
“The Marines are trained so much it’s basic instinct for us to do what we do,” she said. “I know if he every got in a hard spot, he would know what to do because they prep us for everything.”
When asked what is the best part of having two children in the Marines, Gayle Ann started to tear up. The pride so visibly displayed for all her neighbors to see is very real.
“Their dad and I support every single thing about it,” she said. “The Marine Corps has taught them a lot of respect. They have both grown up a ton very quickly.”
Contact Todd L. Disher at email@example.com