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Released March 28, 2003

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - Fred Varnado of Hattiesburg isn't watching that much television these days, unlike many Americans who have stayed glued to their sets since the beginning of the latest war with Iraq. And if you knew much about him, you might wonder why not.

Varnado, a retired lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army who served at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., has a wife and daughter who are both active military with the U.S. Army stationed at Camp Doha in Kuwait, not far from the fierce fighting taking place between coalition troops and the remains of a military loyal to Iraqi president Sadaam Hussein.

But Varnado is at peace with the situation, due in part to his strong religious faith and the instructions of his wife, Col. Sheila Varnado of Cleveland, Ohio, to go about his daily routine - and not worry.

"I'm doing fine," said Fred Varnado, an academic coordinator with the McNair Scholars Program at The University of Southern Mississippi. "I know my wife is a strong Christian, and they (Sheila and his daughter, Specialist 4th Class Tanishia Varnado of Florence) and they are well trained," or, as Varnado says in 'military speak,' "tactically and technically competent."

Still, he can't help but catch a little of the latest news about the conflict. "I've tried not to, but I do watch it some, of course, but she (Sheila) doesn't want me to worry, because she (and Tanishia) are safe."

Besides, like Fred did when he embarked on his 24-year military career, his wife and daughter took their respective oaths "to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic," an obligation the entire family takes to heart.

The Varnados met while both were stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga. Sheila later became the first African-American and first woman to direct the Southern Miss Army ROTC. He said their daughter was inspired to join the military by the experience of her parents.

Fortunately, mother and daughter work just a building apart at Camp Dohar, and are able to communicate with Fred when they can by e-mail almost daily. Varnado said he couldn't discuss what their duties are at Camp Dohar, only that they work in "highly sensitive positions.

"They can't say where they are exactly or about operational missions, but they can talk about their concerns and about the weather," he said.

Dustin Rawls, a graduate assistant from Brentwood, Tenn., who works with Varnado at Southern Miss, says he's impressed by his ability to cope while his family is so far from home and so close to danger.

"He's (Fred) just a unique spirit," said Rawls, who is a graduate student in college student personnel services. Rawls is impressed at how Varnado remains optimistic and upbeat despite not having his family close by - and out of harm's way. "He has a faith that is unparalleled with anyone I've ever met. It amazes me on a daily basis that he can walk around with a smile on his face, he's such an optimistic person. The glass is always half full with Mr. V."

And though he's hung up his fatigues for civilian life, Varnado says he'd love to join his family in serving his country again. "After being in (the military) as long as I was, I'm sort of hungry to be a part of that mission."



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July 16, 2003 9:48 AM