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Sunday, Feb. 25
The Indiana Daily Student


Hoosier misses home

Former student wants to return to IU after duty in Kuwait

He calls home every couple of weeks. The conversations tend to last less than five minutes, but the most recent call carried on for 15 minutes. They talked about his trip into Baghdad, sandstorms and his need for clean, white socks.\nSpc. Elijah Wilburn, a former IU student, calls his parents and friends whenever he can find a few free minutes and an unoccupied phone in the Middle East. Wilburn, 20, has been stationed in Kuwait since mid-February, when he left Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, Ind. \nHe is one of 34 students who withdrew from the University this spring because they were called to active duty, according to the Office of the Registrar. \nSome have served overseas in support of the war in Iraq, while others have remained in the United States before receiving assignments. All have put school on hold, left parents and friends behind, and some have engaged in combat for the first time.\nWilburn, a member of Company D of the 1st Battalion, 152nd Infantry of the Indiana National Guard, was already enrolled in classes when he was activated in early January. He cancelled classes, left a job at Eigenmann food court and convenience store, and withdrew as a sophomore majoring in psychology and English. He still pays $250 a month for an apartment he hopes to return to before the fall.\nBut Elijah's mother, Teresa Wilburn, said she doesn't know when he's coming home to Washington, Ind., which is 60 miles southwest of Bloomington. She last heard from him April 14.\n"You hear about the war coming to an end, but you don't let down your guard," she said.\nIn phone calls and letters, Elijah has kept mum about his whereabouts and actions because the information has to remain secret. He also doesn't want his parents to worry. His 1,500-minute phone cards don't last long either -- when he makes international calls, each minute of talk erases 60 minutes from his card.\nThe last letter to his parents, mailed April 7, addressed why he doesn't divulge the war's gory details -- "'If you haven't figured this out, I haven't been telling you how much this sucks,'" Teresa read. "'But that wouldn't do much good.'" Instead, he wrote about insects nicknamed "Camel Spiders" that gnaw on skin. One of the spiders attacked one of the soldier's guns.\nAltogether, his parents say they know little about his military responsibilities in Kuwait. Before he left, Elijah was in charge of driving a Humvee, but that role might have since changed. His unit's primary weapon, the Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) missile, is fired from armored vehicles and can hit moving targets.\nHis parents say he has moved among Camp Doha, Camp Wolf and Kuwait International Airport. They heard a rumor that Elijah's unit entered Baghdad two weeks ago to relieve another unit's troops. When he heard his mother found this out, Elijah became upset because he doesn't want her to worry. He wouldn't tell her what he did there. \nHe would rather keep the conversation to happenings in his hometown, conditions in the Middle East and what he needs in care packages. Along with grape juice, hard candy and Ho-Hos, Teresa has sent him surgical masks so he can breathe better when the desert sand blows. Another box contained three CDs of 285 songs burned from his computer at home. \nElijah's brother Calvin, 22, is a Marine based in Cherry Point, N.C. Oscar Wilburn said he hopes his sons make the military a career so they can retire early, rather than work their entire lives like he has had to. He is a coal miner in Lewis, Ind.\nWhen his duty is completed, Elijah plans to return to IU. He hopes to become a creative writer, but his future in the military is unclear. He hasn't discussed military plans with his parents.\n"Everybody in this family calls Jesus our savior," Oscar said. "Before Elijah left, I prayed with him and committed Elijah's life into God's hands. All things work to the way of the Lord. Even if Elijah doesn't come home -- and I'm not saying I don't want him to come home -- I still have God to lean on"

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