Deputy DA helps prosecute Iraq’s rebuilding |

Deputy DA helps prosecute Iraq’s rebuilding

by Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

Kerri Cheney understands why her husband, Capt. Jeff Cheney, is serving in a special forces unit in downtown Baghdad.

“He has a heart of service,” she said. “He feels it’s his duty as an American citizen to represent the American people.”

Jeff Cheney, 33, a National Guardsman, is also a prosecutor and a deputy district attorney for the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Glenwood Springs.

He was deployed in August to serve overseas for one year.

It’s the longest time the couple has been apart ” but that’s not the hardest part about Jeff being gone.

“It’s excruciating for him to be away from the kids,” Kerri said of the couple’s two children, Abbie, 4-1/2, and Jacob, 2-1/2. “He really misses them. He’s the kind of dad who makes everything fun. He makes changing diapers fun ” I’m not kidding!”

Jeff joined the National Guard when he was just 18. Serving in the armed forces was in the family ” Jeff’s father, Jay, served in the Navy and Jeff’s brother Joel was a Marine.

“Plus, the National Guard paid for Jeff’s undergraduate school,” said Kerri.

Jeff “upped the ante” for deployment last January, according to Kerri, when he joined a special forces unit, making it more possible for him to be needed overseas.

“Since Jeff’s an attorney, he was doing a lot of legal work in the National Guard, but he wanted to do something more active,” Kerri explained.

Still, nothing could quite prepare Kerri for the news this summer that Jeff would be going to Iraq.

“The first week he was gone, it seemed surreal,” she said. “Then I guess I went through all the stages of grief. Now I know I’m going to be fine.”

Kerri is a senior counselor and case manager at YouthZone, the youth advocacy organization with headquarters in Glenwood Springs, so she has an extensive background in psychology. Still, it was hard to take the news.

In Glenwood, where Kerri grew up, she and Jeff worked close by one another ” Jeff in the Garfield County Courthouse and Kerri at the YouthZone offices across the street.

“There’s sadness in not having your best friend there,” Kerri said. “If I was having a bad day, he’d be right there. And Jeff used to go over to Abbie’s preschool class at lunch.”

“Packages of joy”

Kerri said when Jeff left for Iraq in September after spending two weeks at Fort Carson, she and the children saw him off.

“I saw a lot of wives there by themselves,” she said. “At first I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be hard. Here I am, a single parent with two kids.’ But now I think, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me these little packages of joy.’ Kids are so full of life and joy. I’m so fortunate to have them here with me.”

Kerri said the kids are young enough that they will go through times of missing their dad.

“We went to see ‘Brother Bear’ the other day, and after the movie, Jacob looked around and saw a lot of kids with their dads,” Kerri said. “He crawled in my lap and said, ‘I miss Daddy.’ And Jacob will walk around with a cordless phone and pretend that he’s talking to his daddy.”

She said there are ways the kids can connect with their dad. On Monday, Abbie’s preschool class is going to make ornaments for a little plastic Christmas tree they intend to send to Jeff.

Community support

Abbie’s classmates aren’t the only students connecting with Jeff. Kerri’s mom, Libby McNeill, teaches art at Sopris Elementary School. Her art students are making special folded American flags with messages to send off on Veterans Day.

One of Kerri’s best friends, Dendy Heisel, teaches second grade at Glenwood Springs Elementary School. She copied a photograph of Jeff and the kids and put it into all the teachers’ mailboxes at school. Now, classes of kids are writing letters to Jeff on a regular basis.

And over at Glenwood Springs High School, teacher Mary Heisel, Dendy’s sister-in-law, bought a bunch of postcards of Glenwood Springs. Kids filled out the postcards to Jeff and his fellow servicemen.

“Jeff told me on the phone today he just got 50 postcards of Glenwood in the mail,” Kerri said. “The kids wrote some pretty good jokes on them, he said!”

While Jeff is gone, the District Attorney’s office is keeping close tabs on Jeff and his family.

“Mac has been so great,” Kerri said of District Attorney Mac Myers. “The office had a going-away party for Jeff, and Mac told him that he couldn’t take anything down off his office walls. Everything is there waiting for him when he gets back.”

“The only thing we’ve cleaned out is two half-consumed boxes of Triscuits Jeff left here,” Myers said with a smile. “Other than that, we’ve kept his office intact, and it will remain that way until he returns.”

Jeff’s co-workers send him a care package every other week, and the attorneys and secretaries take turns taking Kerri out to lunch.

“We miss him tons,” Myers said. “We e-mail once or twice a week and we pass around the e-mails we get from him. He’s a special guy.”

Freedom isn’t free

Having Kerri’s parents, Rick and Libby McNeill of Glenwood Springs, nearby has been wonderful for the Cheneys.

“I feel like God put this community in place for support at this time,” Kerri said. “Jeff could have been deployed when I was pregnant and Jeff and I were living in Arkansas going to graduate school. I’m so thankful to have my family and the community’s support here now.”

Kerri said she knows the Iraq situation is controversial.

“I know that people are frustrated and upset,” she said, “but I want people to know how proud we are of Jeff and the troops over there. I know Jeff feels really strongly that generations before us have established our freedom for us, though today’s generations don’t understand that our freedom is not free.

“He told me he saw a little girl wearing a dirty white dress and no shoes and he thought of Abbie. He asked if I could send a box of children’s clothes to him. I did and he left the clothes outside for her and for others. When you’re there, he said, you realize what we have here.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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