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Doing double duty

Local couple have been together since high school, and now they're both serving in Iraq as Army 2nd lieutenants

Benjamin Ward and Leticia Tizzy Durham were equally smitten when they first met at South Medford High School.

They were high school sweethearts ' an item from the word go, said his mother Lillian Stewart of Jacksonville. They were always together.

In fact, when the now-retired South Medford teacher was still teaching, both Benjamin and Tizzy served as student aides in one of her classes.

You couldn't pull them apart, Stewart said of their bond.

So she wasn't surprised when, after marrying Sept. 13, 2003, and graduating from Oregon State University with newly-minted golden 2nd lieutenant bars thanks to Army ROTC scholarships, both young officers ended up in Iraq, albeit 100 miles apart.

— Now I have my two blue stars hanging in the window, said Stewart, who lives in the Jacksonville area with her husband, Allen. Benjamin's biological father, Glen Ward, lives in the Ashland area.

The stars indicate two family members are in the military, a status that Stewart says makes her a bit apprehensive, given their present location.

Since the war began a little more than three years ago, 2,345 Americans have died in Iraq.

He told me he has more armor on his vehicle than most but I know he goes out on a lot of convoys, Stewart said, adding, They did their wills and all that before they left.

Both officers are members of the Army's 64th Brigade Support Battalion based in Fort Carson, Colo. They are stationed at two camps northeast of Baghdad. He arrived in November; his wife got there late last month.

Benjamin, 24, operates a computer in a Humvee while Tizzy, 22, is in a back-up support position, Stewart said.

He is closer to Iran so that makes me a little nervous, she said, referring to news reports about the troubled relationship between Iran and the U.S.

She said it didn't ease her mind when he informed her he was five miles from the nearest hot spot.

He has advised her not to watch the news, she added.

But we all know they are doing what they think they should be doing, so we are all supportive of them, she said.

Her son told her she that was in more danger during her recent ride-along with her police officer daughter, Sara Ward, a 1996 graduate of South Medford. Sara is an officer in the Seattle area.

Benjamin graduated from South Medford in 2000, followed by a diploma in 2004 from OSU where he majored in music. His wife graduated from South Medford in 2001, and graduated from OSU in 2005 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Her parents are Robert and Marlene Durham, former Medford residents who now live in Virginia.

Although Stewart isn't a stranger to the military ' her father was an Army colonel before he retired ' she says having a son and daughter-in-law in harm's way doubles the anxiety.

We worry about them, she said, noting that both feel the same about the other. They both miss each other terribly, she said.

Medford resident Bernadette Durham Goodpasture, Tizzy's older sister, says her sister would rather be near her husband than worrying about him from afar.

She did want to go, she said. And part of her career path required her to have that experience.

She's smart and a tough little one, she added. But I'm always worried about all of them.

When her sister arrived in Iraq, she was able to spend a few days with her husband at his post before going to her camp, Goodpasture said.

However, it wasn't in time to help her husband celebrate his March 11 birthday.

I talked to her this past weekend ' she's hanging in there, Goodpasture said.

Banjamin and Tizzy have a four-year hitch in the regular Army, followed by a military reserve commitment.

We all miss them terribly, Stewart said. You have the uncertainty of not knowing from day to day what's going on, and hearing all the news about Iraq.

While they may not be together for her birthday late in November, they should be departing Iraq soon after.

We expect both of them to come home at relatively the same time, Stewart said. We hope that will be by Christmas.

Doing double duty"pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Lillian and Allen Stewart of Medford hold a photo of South Medford High School sweethearts Benjamin Ward and Tizzy Durham, who are serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army, albeit at different posts. Durham and Ward were married in 2003. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell