Daughter in Arms
Last July, when National Guard Specialist Janieko Nance landed at Bagram Air Base, 30 miles northeast of Kabul, Afghanistan, she was greeted by a series of deafening explosions. “I said, ‘Take me back home,’ ” says Nance, 26. “I was really scared.” She calmed down a bit when she learned the noise came from a mine-clearing operation. But it took a pal in the 769th Engineers Battalion, Spc. Michael Thompson, to fully soothe her nerves. Like Nance, Thompson, 47, hails from Baton Rouge. In fact they go back a long way: He’s her father.
“I love the security of knowing he’s with me,” says Nance, who joined up three years ago and had to drop her computer-science studies at a community college when she was called to duty. “I can say, T need to talk,’ or even, T need some money!’ ” Says Thompson, a five-year Guard veteran who works as a Wal-Mart meat processor: “She’s my battle buddy. Someone I can share everything with.”
At the moment, the pair are the only father-daughter team serving in Afghanistan. Their job entails tending the runway, refurbishing buildings and clearing away tanks left over from the Soviet occupation. “You wouldn’t know they were father and daughter while they’re at work,” says their commander, Capt. Sheldon Perkins, 32. Off duty, Thompson and Nance break-fast together (invariably on waffles and scrambled eggs), take walks and talk about home.
The family—including Thompson’s wife, Linda, 43, and their son Brian, 24, currently stationed with the Navy in Landover, Md.—has always been tight. Until her overseas kin ship home, most likely in December, Linda, a convenience store clerk, fights loneliness. Nance knows the feeling well: She misses Asia, her 8-year-old daughter with fiancé James Spears, 28, a casino pit clerk. “Before I left, she put a stuffed bunny into my bag,” Nance says. “That’s what I have next to me when I sleep—my baby sleeping next to me.”