DanvilleSanRamon.com

Column - September 21, 2007

Diablo Views: A son in Iraq

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Michelle Giannini wears her heart around her neck. An attractive gold medallion reads: Marine Mom. Her mission is to keep her son, 1st Lt. Jason Giannini, USMC, safe in Iraq, where he is heading up an incident response platoon in Al Asad, a military base in Anbar Province.

I met with Michelle last week after we ran a photo of Jason and President Bush taken on his Labor Day visit to Iraq. She watched the event on the news and was rewarded with a glimpse of her son, who was security liaison with the Secret Service.

"I recognized the way he walked," she said.

Jason is normally close-mouthed about his duties, Michelle said, as Marine officers are instructed. But as a member of the Contra Costa County chapter of the Blue Star Moms, she hears stories. "Some will tell their Mom, 'I've been shot at today and I'm still alive,'" she said.

We always hear from the Blue Star Moms when they collect items for care packages to send to the troops. The package Jason enjoyed most was assembled right after his birthday, July 9, which Michelle celebrated with his pals at Crogan's in Walnut Creek. Pictures showed his girlfriend holding a birthday poster, and his friends raising mugs to toast Jason turning 25. Fourteen of them signed an American flag for him.

Michelle was not surprised when Jason joined the Marine Corps, she said. As little boys, he and his younger brother Doug, now at Arizona State University, were always adventurous.

"How do you think I got all these gray hairs?" Michelle asked with a laugh.

Jason graduated San Ramon Valley High School in 2000 and when he continued his education at Diablo Valley College, he was a cadet with the Sheriff's Department. He went on to earn a degree in criminal justice at Sacramento State University, where he joined the Platoon Leadership Program. Michelle said she blesses those who guided him to become an officer.

Jason trained at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia for two summers, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on June 11, 2005, in a ceremony held at Hap Magee Ranch Park. He returned to Quantico for further training, and Michelle visited for parents' day. She got to play Marine - shoot an M-16 and a grenade launcher. Most importantly, she had a glimpse into the special world Jason had entered, of "the few, the brave."

"I know he is well-trained," she said. "I needed to know that."

Michelle has found the Blue Star Moms invaluable. They provide practical advice for parents, and help them to understand life in the military and the pressures of serving on dangerous missions, as well as the transition when returning to the States. They meet monthly at the Danville Veterans Memorial Building.

"This Valley is very supportive of us," she said. "People mail us donations for general use."

Michelle, who works at Re/Max Accord, is serving as first vice president in charge of membership. She said the Contra Costa County chapter has about 170 members and, fortunately, only one has become a Gold Star Mom, when Army Pfc. Jimmy Coon of Walnut Creek was killed in April.

The Blue Star Moms take no political stands but their mission remains steadfast: Support Our Troops. The next care package drive, "Holiday Hugs from Home," will be from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturdays, Nov. 3 and 17, at the Vets Hall. Donations should be individualized packets for easy packing in the small boxes with their distinctive big blue stars, which let the troops know people care. Michelle said what they like best are envelopes of tuna or chicken, and energy bars, apparently a great respite from the MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat). They also like to get dark 100 percent cotton socks, and protein shakes.

"Since Jason went, I've become more aware of what's going on in the world," Michelle said. People react in interesting ways when she tells them her son is serving in Iraq, she added. She is always surprised when they feel the need to unload their negative feelings about the war on her.

"I feel like saying, 'I don't need to hear that. Just make a donation,'" she said, with a wry laugh. -Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.

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