Soldiers land tickets to Obama inaugural

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 8, 2008 

WASHINGTON - Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Williams schooled his three children on the presidential campaign every night after he picked them up from day care on his way home from work.

Even 2-year-old David, when his father showed him a photograph of the Democratic candidate, would say, "Bawack Obama!"

Now their father is bringing them to Washington to see President-elect Obama's inauguration.

It will be a long trip from Fort Riley -- where Williams is stationed -- for David and his sisters, 5-year-old Chantee and 8-year-old Alexis.

But it will be an even longer journey for their mother.

Staff Sgt. Demetria Williams will be coming all the way from Baghdad, where she is a medic with the 300th Military Police Co. at Fort Riley.

How did the Williams family snag not just one, or two, but five of the hottest tickets around?

Leroy Williams, who has spent the past five months as chief cook, chauffeur and homework helper on top of his job at the base, said: "You try to always be positive and good things will happen."

Credit Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who when told of Williams' request for tickets, quickly agreed.

"You have a person who is coming all the way from Baghdad, for goodness' sakes," the Republican lawmaker said.

Williams and his wife had talked about attending the inauguration because "there's never going to be another 'first' black president," he explained. In Iraq since July, she has leave time coming.

Her husband was about to spend $2,000 for tickets through an online offer before a friend warned him off. When he learned that members of Congress had tickets to give away, he

contacted Roberts' liaison to the base, Harold Stones.

Stones was impressed with Williams, who served in Kosovo and the first Gulf War, and his role as a solo parent. With the children's mother in combat, it seemed like a slam-dunk.

"If these brave protectors of America's freedom can't get tickets, I'm not sure who should," Stones said.

Demand for the congressional passes has been off the charts. "We stopped counting the phone calls after 250," said Sarah Little, an aide to Roberts.

Hotels in the capital are booked solid. Homeowners are renting out extra rooms or even their entire house. The Williams used to live in the area and plan to stay with friends.

Leroy, 36, is from Hampton, Va. He was a teacher of special needs children before he became a career soldier. Demetria, 32, is studying to become a registered nurse. This is her first tour in Iraq.

She's been under fire and had "some difficult days," her husband said, but he tries not to worry.

Now all they're thinking about is their trip to Washington.

And seeing "Bawack" Obama.

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