Worrying that someone in uniform will be waiting for her, a Westbrook mother of a soldier in Iraq often fears going home.

“I have dreams about that knock,” Joann Nappi said recently while wiping tears away. Her son, John R. Hamel, patrols the Sunni Triangle in Iraq.

Hamel, 22, is the son of Joann and Russ Nappi of Westbrook and Joel Hamel of Portland. The soldier’s wife, Stephinie, lives in Westbrook.

Hamel, 22, who was promoted to specialist last month, is serving with the Headquarters Company in the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Division. He is one of 3,600 soldiers sent to Iraq from Korea in August. In Iraq, he is based at Camp Junction City, which comes under mortar fire daily. Nappi said some of the soldiers experience nightmares.

Hamel sleeps in an old, concrete barracks and eats in a mess tent similar to the one in Mosul where 22 died in an explosion in December. Hamel, who hunts for insurgents in Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad, is a tank driver and also serves as a gunner aboard a Humvee.

His tank was attacked recently while guarding a bridge in Ramadi. They returned fire, killing three men dressed in Iraqi National Guard uniforms, who he called “moles.”

“It’s a rough deployment,” his mom said.

Last month, Hamel ate breakfast with one of four soldiers who died when a Humvee hit an improvised exploding device (IED). Soon after the incident, he called home. “I’m having a bad day,” he told his mom.

Nappi described her son as a rugged guy who weighs about 150 pounds. She said her son isn’t a big guy, but he’s tough. But he was in shock when his buddies were killed.

In an earlier incident, Hamel was a passenger in an armored Humvee in which a gunner was injured when it was hit by an IED in October, but Hamel was unhurt.

Hamel married his long time sweetheart, Stephinie Beesley, on Feb. 8 while he was home on a two-week leave. His wife told Nappi that while at home he drove down the middle of the road the way soldiers are instructed to avoid IEDs. His wife would warn him to get off the yellow line.

His mom said the couple is expecting a child in mid-November. The two women talk almost every day.

Nappi belongs to an on-line support group. One of the moms from Arizona lost her 21-year-old son last month.

Hamel’s family is hopeful that his Iraq deployment will end in September. He’ll return to Fort Carson, Colo.


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