Fifty-nine-year-old UL journalism professor Robert Buckman has been recalled to active duty by the Army Reserve and expects to report to Afghanistan sometime in July. Buckman retired from the Army Reserve nine years ago after 28 years of commissioned service but is still subject to recalls. "They are badly in need of people," says Buckman, who's had two hip replacements and a shoulder replacement in the past 10 years but still managed to pass an army physical two and a half years ago.
Buckman contacted the Army following 9/11 to volunteer but was told he wouldn't be needed. About three years ago, Buckman says the Army began calling back, and he was nearly deployed to Iraq last summer. There's still a slim chance that plans could change again, but Buckman says it's unlikely. An Army general recently signed off on his deployment, and UL is looking to replace him next year. Buckman is awaiting official orders in the coming weeks and expects to report to Fort Benning in June before heading overseas the following month for a year-long tour of duty. Buckman, who is a Lieutenant Colonel, says he's been told he will be serving as a deputy director for strategic planning on the joint staff, though he still doesn't know from which base he will be working.
Buckman is coordinator of the print journalism sequence at UL, where he has been teaching since 1989. He entered the military at the tail end of the Vietnam War and has never seen duty inside a war zone. From the '70s through the '90s, he's served in a series of individual training tours and intelligence assignments, mostly in central and South America, due to his ability to speak fluent Spanish. His last service came in 1998 as a reserve attaché in Columbia.
"It's kind of ironic that after 30 something years I'm finally going to be going into a war zone," Buckman says. "It's gratifying to know they still think I'm useful at 59. I do things that younger people can't keep up with me.
"There are concerns," he adds, "but I'm not upset that I'm going to Afghanistan for a year. I'm concerned about making sure my Great Dane is going to be well taken care of. They wouldn't let me take him with me. And I've got to get my house rented out and things like that." ' Nathan Stubbs
GULF COAST AID TIED TO IRAQ WITHDRAWAL
By a vote of 218-208, the U.S. House passed a $124 million supplemental spending bill last week that included a timetable for withdrawal of most troops out of Iraq by this time next year. The bill largely goes toward funding the Iraq war and also contains almost $7 billion in hurricane aid for the Gulf Coast, including $1.3 billion for New Orleans levee protection, $110 million for fisheries, a two-year extension of Go Zone tax credits, and a waiver of the Stafford Act requirement of a 10 percent local match in hurricane recovery projects. The Senate also passed the bill; President Bush is expected to veto it.
Bush opposes the bill because of both the timetable for withdrawal and additional domestic spending included in the legislation. Votes on the bill fell mostly along party lines, including the Louisiana delegation, with the Democratic majority supporting the bill and Republicans voting against it.. ' NS
LAFAYETTE MARINE KILLED IN IRAQ
Just after 6 a.m. last Friday, Aporil Celestine wrote to her
husband on his MySpace webpage: "I keep sending you messages like you are going to write me back as soon as you get back from your convoy. It just doesn't feel real. I'm praying that this isn't true. I'm praying that you would write me back and tell me that it was a mistake." Willie Celestine Jr. died in Iraq while serving as a U.S. Marine. His MySpace page ' which said he was 21 years old and a 2004 graduate of Acadiana High School ' became a place for friends and family to mourn and remember him. ' R. Reese Fuller
BOASSO MAKES THE SWITCH-HIT OFFICIAL
Gubernatorial candidate and self-made millionaire Walter Boasso is going back to his roots for the October election. Last week, the state senator from Arabi confirmed his switch from the Republican to Democratic Party, saying running as a Democrat will give him the best opportunity to push an agenda for change and reform. The impetus for Boasso's move was the Republican Party of Louisiana's March 21 endorsement of U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, the frontrunner in the race. Says Boasso, "The people of Louisiana, regardless of party affiliation, are in search of a leader, and are eager to stand side by side with someone willing to challenge the establishment and reform our state." Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat, also is in the race. However, the Louisiana Democratic Party isn't likely to endorse a candidate until after qualifying, which takes place Sept. 4-6. ' Leslie Turk
BANNER WEEKEND AT FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL AND JAZZ FEST
Spurred on by glorious weather, Festival International de Louisiane had a banner year, with attendees packing downtown Lafayette throughout the weekend. An informal poll of Independent staffers yielded these favorite picks: sacred steel act The Lee Boys at the Fais Do Do stage (also one of multiple Gov. Kathleen Blanco sightings); Ba Cissoko's members running their koras through effect pedals to create the equivalent of African techno; and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band mixing in lines about the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl during its version of "When the Saints Go Marching In."
With FIL now a memory, it's time to gear up for the second weekend of The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans. Acadiana performers getting props from The New York Times for their first-weekend Jazz Fest performances included Steve Riley and Rosie Ledet. Chief Times music critic Jon Pareles said of Ledet, "Pfizer might want to contact the sultry zydeco accordionist and singer Rosie Ledet, who puts across some rocking, cleverly risqué two-steps. Her 'Pick It Up' is a cheerful endorsement of Viagra." ' Scott Jordan
BILL WILL PROTECT LAKE PEIGNEUR
When the state legislative session opened Monday, a bill aimed at prohibiting drilling in and around Lake Peigneur was on the agenda. House bill 617, filed by St. Martin Parish Rep. Sydnie Mae Durand, is designed to block AGL Resources' attempts to drill two additional natural gas storage caverns into the Jefferson Island salt dome, deep beneath the lake. Residents fought the drilling of the first two caverns, and have continued to protest plans for expansion. Last year, Durand successfully shepherded a resolution through the Legislature requesting that the Department of Natural Resources not issue the necessary permits for AGL to drill the caverns. DNR head Scott Angelle noted problems with lease payments from AGL and stopped its cavern-expansion plans over the summer 2006. In December 2006, AGL filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Mineral Board and DNR seeking an injunction against the state. Durand says she wants to put an end to all oil and gas activity except directional drilling at the lake that straddles the Iberia and Vermilion parish lines. "Hopefully this will give the lake the rest that it needs and allow the people who live there and who come to visit an opportunity enjoy the beauty," Durand says. ' Mary Tutwiler
STRAIN CAMP HOPING INDICTMENT CHATTER HOLDS
An appeals court and eager prosecutors are still trying to figure out what to do with Bob Odom's never-ending indictment. The longtime Democratic agriculture commissioner has charges of public corruption still hovering over his head, which wasn't missed by the opposing campaign of state Rep. Mike Strain, a Republican from Covington. "Word on the street is this thing could just keep coming back up," says Strain spokesperson Brandon Vidrine. "But it could play out so many ways." Strain filled in last week for an absent state Sen. Walter Boasso of Arabi, now a Democratic candidate for governor, in a speech to the Acadiana Young Republicans on the eve of Boasso's party switch. Next door, Odom was attending a fundraiser for a Democratic state representative, but paths never passed. Aside from the corruption charges, this is going to be an oddly idealistic fight in an agriculture arena. U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Kenner Republican, is backing Strain and should be a solid source for campaign money, but Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Wayne "Spider" Carter is leading the fundraising race and should have enough jingle to buy significant name recognition before the fall. ' Jeremy Alford
OPELOUSAS' ALL-NIGHT PARTY NO MORE
Since 2004, there's been a 24-hour party going on in Opelousas, especially in the part of town know as "The Hill," where some 2,000 people gather every night. But the Opelousas Board of Aldermen has turned out the lights on the never-ending party.
In 2003, a law was passed to allow the Evangeline Downs to serve alcohol throughout the night to its customers. A year later, the law was amended to include local bar owners who argued that Evangeline Downs was being given preferential treatment. Last week, Opelousas' aldermen voted to ban liquor sales from 2 a.m. until 6 a.m. (Evangeline Downs is exempted from the new ordinance, since less than 15 percent of its gross sales are derived from alcohol sales.)
Police Chief Perry Gallow told The Advocate that since the 24-hour liquor law's been in effect, the city has spent some $50,000 a year in overtime pay to police to patrol The Hill. The new law goes into effect at the end of May. ' RRF
KAPLAN'S LANE DOES PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
Country singer and Kaplan native Jaryd Lane performed on the April 21 broadcast of the nationally syndicated public radio program Prairie Home Companion. Lane was one of six finalists ' out of 740 contestants ' featured on the program's "People in Their Twenties" talent search. Lane (host Garrison Keillor quipped that he's "really country") performed his songs "What Are We Fighting For" and "The Wrangler." You can listen to the entire program or individual segments online. ' RRF