Mass. Reservist Confronts Prospect Of Kyrgyz Unrest 03:50

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Earlier this month, 34-year-old U.S. Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Joseph Clinton and his wife, Roxanne, were busy at their Franklin home, preparing for his deployment to Kyrgyzstan. He was scheduled to work as an aerial porter at Manas Air Base, a key supply point for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.

They said knowing that he'd be outside of the main war zone in Afghanistan made it easier for them to accept the deployment and talk about it with their children. "They know he's not going to be smack in the middle of it, so it makes it easier for them," Roxanne said.

Joseph and Roxanne Clinton (Deborah Becker/WBUR)
Joseph and Roxanne Clinton (Deborah Becker/WBUR)

"They're OK with it," Staff Sgt. Clinton said. "It's easier for them knowing that I'm not going into the real hostile area."

Two weeks ago, it wasn't hostile in Kyrgyzstan, but now it's in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. The ethnic unrest there has killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others. Military officials say the worst violence is happening about 200 miles south of the Manas base and operations there now include helping with humanitarian aid.

That shouldn't pose a problem for Clinton. Much of his pre-deployment training involved cultural issues and how to handle the public's increasing hostility to the nine-year-long conflict in Afghanistan.

"There are times that people, they don't like the Americans there," Clinton said. "If someone walks by you and spits at your feet, you have to just keep walking."

Although Clinton has been in the Air Force Reserves at Westover for 12 years, he was only deployed overseas once before, in 2003, to a base he says he can't name. But President Obama's 30,000-troop surge to Afghanistan this year has caused a 40 percent increase in operations at the Manas base and the need for more staff. Most of the soldiers from Westover volunteered. Staff Sgt. Clinton did not.

"I was asked if I wanted to go and at first I said, 'No,' " Clinton said. "Then I was asked to go on a separate list, which means if we needed you to go, would you go and I said, 'OK, you can put me on that.' Then they called me and said, 'You're on the alternate list, your name came up, so you're going to this location.' "

"It's what he signed up to do," Roxanne said. "We back here make the best of it and do what we have to do until he comes home."

Coming home, they say, is all they allow themselves to talk about, regardless of what might be happening — politically or otherwise — in Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan or the U.S.

"I don't like to watch and find out what's going on and put myself in a mental status saying, 'Oh my God, there's a surge, we're gonna be overloaded with work,' " Clinton said. "I don't want to have an opinion about it. It puts too much of a burden on me."

Roxanne says she keeps her opinions to herself. "I see what's going on and I'm here to support him. If I have differing opinions I don't want to add to the weight that's on his shoulders already by saying something, so I just try not to."

They may not talk about it, but right after he found out he was deployed, Clinton asked Roxanne to marry him, after six years of dating. So they're still merging their two households and four children. While he's focusing on the best outcome, he's also preparing for the possibility of the worst.

"I had to do my will, power of attorney," he said. "A lot right now is just paperwork so that when I go everything financially, for her, for Roxanne, everything is all set with her so she's good to go."

In an e-mail sent from Kyrgyzstan last week, Clinton said he's doing the job he expected to be doing in Kyrgyzstan — helping to load and unload military personnel for the war in Afghanistan. He expects to be home in Massachusetts in four months.

This program aired on June 18, 2010.