Family's holidays have military flavor

CANTON, Ohio (AP) - With six sons in the military, Scott and Patrice Whittaker had to turn to technology to wish a merry Christmas to half of them.

"The hardest thing is not having all of your kids home at the same time and not knowing when you will again," said Scott Whittaker, who served with the Army in Vietnam.

From their Jackson Township home, the family tried e-mail, telephone and a Web camera to send greetings to Sgt. 1st Class Jay Whittaker, 29, with Army special forces in Germany; Army Staff Sgt. Joe Whittaker, 25, a scout squad leader stationed in Alaska; and Army Spc. Jack Whittaker, 21, a chaplain's assistant with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq.

The other three Whittaker sons were home for the holidays: Pfc. Jeric, 20, an Army combat medic; Pvt. Jon, 18, who enlisted in the Ohio Army National Guard on Dec. 17, and Air Force 2nd Lt. Jeff, 27, earning his navigator wings in Texas. Their sister, Jilisa, 17, is a junior at Jackson High School.

"Mom even sent Jack a tree with ornaments so he could set it up in his tent in Iraq," Jeric Whittaker said.

Jeff and Jeric head back to their bases near San Antonio on Jan. 2.

The Whittakers said they are thankful for community support for the troops, such as the second-grade teachers and students at Strausser Elementary School who made 150 patriotic T-shirts to send to soldiers. Jack Whittaker received 75 of the shirts to pass out.

Three of the sons' four grandparents were in the military.

Jon leaves for basic training in Georgia on June 30, after he graduates from high school, to pursue a paralegal specialty. Scott Whittaker said Jack plans to leave the service in July and pursue a career in music production.

Speaking by phone from Alaska, Joe Whittaker said he at first planned to enlist for one four-year term to get money for college.

"I liked it so much that I stayed longer," he said. "It'll be eight years in September."

Former schoolteacher Jeff Whittaker said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks inspired him to enlist.

"I turned down a full-time teaching offer even before getting the Air Force appointment," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)