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American servicemen and women in the Iraq campaign keep their Rogue Valley families up to date about the challenges they face

Somewhere in the Gulf War II theater, Navy Lt. Mike Rudisile strives to cope with everyday life in a Marine Corps unit.

In a letter to his parents, Central Point residents Richard and Gerrie Rudisile, the medical doctor who graduated from North Medford High School in 1987 reports that even taking a shower can be a challenge.

Usually there is a sandstorm every day, so if you take a shower and are the least bit wet coming outside, your skin turns into mud, he writes.

So showering is somewhat pointless. You can say you were clean for 10 minutes a week, though.

Marine Corps reservist Sgt. Sean L. Bell, 33, of Medford, also tries to keep his mom, Carol Ganzer-Gimbolo of Medford, up on life's daily grind.

No, I haven't seen any little nasty critters yet, just a couple of fairly large lizards (about 14-18 inches long, plus tail), he writes. We are told to shake our boots in the morning to evict unwanted guests.

Ashland resident Russell Howe, an Army sergeant supervising the repair of vital computer boards on Apache helicopters, indicates his thoughts are on what awaits him north on the road to Baghdad.

We are moving tomorrow, and we are not going south, the 1999 Ashland High School graduate wrote in his latest cryptic e-mail to his parents, Anna and Gregg Howe of Ashland.

These comments from the Middle East are among the many letters and e-mails sent to anxiously awaiting family members back in the Rogue Valley. They were written before war erupted, before most of the messages home were temporarily halted.

Like Americans who have served in other wars overseas, their comments reflect the trials and tribulations faced by those wearing a military uniform.

Unlike those who marched before, today's troops have ' until the outbreak of hostilities ' the ability to send letters and photos instantaneously from the other side of the world.

Yet many of the concerns, humor and homesickness reflect those echoed from past wars.

I wish the politicians could spend one day in our shoes, writes Rudisile, 34, who is serving as the doc for the 1st Marine Division's 2nd Battalion. His father served in the 1st Marine Division's 4th Battalion during the Korean War.

Like many, he writes via regular mail as well as e-mail.

We definitely do not have it as good as the Army, he writes. In fact, they won't let us on their bases because they don't want to be overrun with Marines.

The first two weeks here we had no electricity, no showers and no hot food, he adds. We had a tent with wooden floors that we slept in.

Noting that his portable bed was destroyed on the flight to the Middle East, Rudisile says he sleeps on the soft sand when in the field.

He writes about troops using porta-potties or having to dig a hole, about being able to take one shower a week, about shaving with cold water.

We do have electricity (now), so we have been playing movies on the computer, he adds. It is our only extra. You would love seeing 10 guys crowded around one laptop sitting on the floor.

Many writing home take time to contemplate their military navels.

I was raised in a very liberal family and lived in a liberal community, writes Howe, 22. I never dreamed of one day joining the Army, and am actually still sometimes surprised that I did.

My personality is much more passive than aggressive, and I have never owned even one G.I. Joe, he adds. All the same, I did join. I simply did not want to go straight to college.

Howe, who acknowledges he wasn't too keen on some of the strict regulations during months of training, has done well in the military. He is now in charge of a semi-truck filled with electronic diagnostic equipment.

A varsity soccer player in high school, he indicates he is looking forward to going to college once he is discharged. He served in Germany before going to the Middle East.

I ... surprisingly, have adjusted somewhat to the Army, he writes. I have more responsibilities and duties now than ever before, and I find I am less carefree because of this. Maturity comes with a price.

Medford native Jennifer Guches, 39, who now lives in Sacramento, is somewhere in the Middle East eating dust with the Navy Seabees, according to the most recent e-mail received by her father, Jacksonville resident Richard Guches.

I am moving north tomorrow with half of my platoon, writes the trained paramedic who opted to join the Seabees as a Navy reservist.

The sandstorms are so intense sometimes that it looks like a dirty fog and I can't see more than 20 feet, she continues. It blocks out the sun and everything.

For a week, her unit had two choices for lunch: hamburgers or hot-dogs.

It has become a joke with us, she writes.

Like her comrades in arms, she also saw humor in the flight over, her father notes.

On the flight to Kuwait, they were all warned not to carry any knives in their pockets, yet they were each issued an M-16 for the trip, he observes.

Navy Quartermaster Emily Jill Groover, the daughter of Ralph and Connie Groover of Medford, is serving aboard the USS Comstock somewhere in the Persian Gulf.

She was included in a CNN feature on the war. Her ship was among the first to fire missiles at Iraq. But the sailor from Medford didn't see the feature.

I only catch CNN every once in a while, but I know what's going on, writes the 1998 North Medford High School graduate who joined the Navy in 1999.

I have sort of a front-row seat, she adds.

Another family member soon may have a front-row seat: her brother. Zackery Groover, who is in the Air Force, e-mailed his mother from Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina on Thursday.

I'm in Delaware (Dover AFB) waiting to go over the pond, writes the 1992 North Medford High School graduate. I'll let you know what's up as soon as I can.

Eagle Point resident Chris R. House, son of Bruce and Karen House of Eagle Point, is aboard the USS Higgins, a Navy destroyer in the Gulf.

I am fine, but, man, was I busy as ever this afternoon, writes the petty officer second class. I will admit, I was nervous and quite scared. Still kind of jittery.

Nice to know everybody is praying, could use a lot of it, he adds. Lord only knows what Saddam will do next. House is 27 and a 1993 graduate of Eagle Point High School.

In an e-mail to mother Kathee Martin of Medford, Navy Lt. Kevin Hendricks, an EA-6B Prowler jet pilot stationed aboard the USS Constellation, simply told her not to worry. He is also keeping in touch with his father, Rick Hendricks of Medford, via e-mail.

The pilot began flying patrols over Iraq's no-fly zone since the ship arrived in the Gulf on Dec. 4.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ian Taylor, 20, the son of Echo Taylor of Medford, keeps in touch through the regular mail.

The 2000 graduate of South Medford High School and a state champion wrestler that year recently wrote his younger sister, Cally, 11, from the Middle East.

But war wasn't on his mind.

I hope school is going well and you're getting all your homework done, he writes. It may not seem a big deal now but, believe me, it is when you get older. So please start making good habits now.

In a letter to his mom, he addressed other worldly issues.

I love you guys so much, and if it means I have to be out here for 20 years just so you all can be free and safe from tyranny and oppression, so be it, he writes. It's a price I'd gladly pay twice.

Meanwhile, Marine Corps reservist Bell, the sergeant shaking out his boots to remove unwanted guests, was settling in with Delta Co., 7th Engineers Battalion.

The combat engineer, who is trained to do everything from build bridges to clear a field of land mines, was sizing up the Middle East.

Wind blows 15-40 mph ' enough to deposit sand in every crack, nook, cranny, rifle part, eyes, etc., he writes. I can already tell that my interest in going to the beach will be satisfied for a long time.

The Oregon State University graduate notes it's difficult to tell when it rains overnight.

Only evidence is the polka-dot pattern in the dust where raindrops hit, he writes. Humidity is so low nothing stays damp for long.

Like other local residents in uniform, he notes that mail call is an important part of the day.

Showers, too, he hastens to add.

Funny, but one's hygiene standards slip considerably under the circumstances, he writes. And this will only get much worse ...

U.S. military personnel with local family ties have sent pictures and letters home about their deployment.