Ironton woman gets best Mother#039;s Day gift ever

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 15, 2003

This past weekend, Ironton resident Patricia Anderson received a phone call from her son, asking if she had received her Mother's Day present yet.

She walked onto the front porch to find her present - her son on his cell phone. Master Sgt. Derek Anderson had returned home after serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom at the U.S. military's Central Command in Qatar. She had not seen him since Christmas.

"She did the typical 'mother things,' crying and hugging," Derek Anderson said.

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"I can sleep now," Patricia Anderson said. "I don't think I ever got a decent night of sleep ever since he was over there. All I did was sit and watch television all the time."

Derek Anderson, 40, is a 1982 graduate of Rock Hill High School who joined the U.S. Air Force the July after his graduation. He is now a member of the 4th Fighter Wing Planning and Programs Office. His stateside job entails instructing troops in dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. During a war, his job includes detecting the location of those weapons.

This time, he was set up and ready to go in case of one of those attacks, but his job was not very hazardous. However, he knew from past experience that it could be.

"In Desert Storm, I chased Scud missiles," he said. "Wherever you go, you have to keep that possibility in your mind in case it happens."

During the beginning of the war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, CentCom was relatively small, Derek Anderson said. Shortly before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, this drastically changed as not only more United States troops began to arrive but also

Coalition troops from Great Britain and Australia arrived. He and other personnel at CentCom then worked 12 to 18 hours per day, seven days a week.

"We had enough aircraft there to take over the world," he said.

The installation was not only full of military personnel and members of the press, but entertainers such as Drew Carey frequently visited.

Another person besides his mother was happy to know Derek Anderson was home, his 16-year-old daughter Danielle.

"She was glad to see me home, then went back to the typical teenager things," he said.

Besides visiting his mother and best friend from high school, Darren Hankins,

Derek Anderson also paid a visit to a class of second-graders at Dawson-Bryant Elementary School who became his pen pals.

After seeing a story in The Ironton Tribune about Anderson, Darrien Hankins, Darren Hankins' daughter and a student in Cristi Gossett's class, wanted to know if she and her classmates could write letters to him. Darrien Hankins, Gossett, said, refers to Derek Anderson as her uncle. The students then began sending him letters and pictures.

Not only were they treated to a visit, but Derek Anderson also presented them with an American flag that had been flown in a combat mission in Iraq.

"They asked me if I was scared and what kind of gun I carried," he said. "Some of them were funny. Someone asked me who my favorite NASCAR driver was."

"When they're older and they're reading about this in a history book, they will know that they're a part of it because of the flag," Gossett said.

The students were not expecting the visit at all, and they were thrilled to see Derek Anderson, she said. They even sang him a song. He later visited fifth graders who were practicing for a school program. Even though it is sad that second graders have to think about war, it was nice to see a person who could explain that the purpose of the war was for the Iraqi people, particularly Iraqi children, to have the freedoms that Americans enjoy, she said.

Derek Anderson will be leaving this weekend for his residence in Goldsboro, N.C., where he will be writing military exercises. After that, he will watch the Coca-Cola 600.

Watching NASCAR races are one of his favorite activities, and he has worked in Joe Nemechek's crew. He and Nemechek kept in touch while he was overseas. Until then, he plans to continue spending time with friends and family.

"I'm mainly doing the little things," he said. "We're all just trying to enjoy each other. That's all that counts."