Saturday, September 25, 2010


Hester reaches milestone with blowout win


And Tattnall Square turned in a very familiar performance in rolling past Dominion Christian 41-8 on Friday night to give Hester his 300th career win.

JASON VORHEES/THE TELEGRAPH Tattnall Square head coach Barney Hester, center, talks to his team after the Trojans’ victory Friday over Dominion Christian. The victory was Hester’s 300th of his coaching career.

The suspense was over early on as to whether the Trojans would deliver the milestone win as well as satisfy the homecoming crowd.

Hester had somewhat successfully downplayed talk of the accomplishment, until gameday and The Telegraph hit the driveway with a big feature on the impending milestone.

“I hadn’t talked a lot about it, because I don’t deal with that stuff,” he said. “Then a big, big article comes out, you get up on Friday morning and see your dang mug shot on the page, it kind of brought it to light.

“I got several messages (Friday) and that’s the one thing I said, Let’s get this thing over with and just win.”

As the final seconds ticked off on the humid night, Tattnall’s coaches congratulated Hester, and the Trojans surrounded their coach as he tried to make his way to the handshake line.

At midfield, while thanking all of his former players and their parents, Hester was given a shiny pennant that had been produced with a picture of him and a listing of his accomplishments. He introduced his family and got a kiss from Mom, his mother Shirley coming up from Dublin for the first time in three or four years. And as that postgame huddle broke, an odd sight for a Friday night — a cake.

“Coach Ratliff asked me this week what I wanted to do about it,” Hester said of athletics director and assistant coach Jeff Ratliff during his talk to players and fans. “I said, ‘Coach, do what you got to do.’ But this is pretty neat.”

Equally neat for Hester and the Trojans was the ease with which they disposed of Dominion Christian, which Hester said was down a few starters because of injury.

“They scored 33 points on Stratford,” Hester said of his rival’s 55-33 win last week over the Knights, who were within 20-18 after a quarter. “It was close for a while.”

The Trojans went 43 yards on 8 plays to score on their first possession, Andrew Layson going in from 2. Tattnall fumbled on its second possession, sent Dominion Christian backwards 22 yards, then scored on a 4-play, 30-yard drive that took less than 90 seconds, Andrew Parker getting the honors from the 2.

The Knights gave the ball back two plays later deep, and John Rader kept from 10 yards out on the first play.

Dominion Christian followed its initial first down with an interception by Gahrett Gaylord on the second play, and Rader rolled left and dumped it to Ryan Mosley, who got a block from Lance Manning and finished off the 69-yard touchdown for a 27-0 lead on the final play of the first quarter.

Big junior Arthur Williams, a 5-foot-10, 227-pounder listed as a noseguard and wearing No. 62, followed a 3-yard gain with a rumbling, tackle-breaking 41-yard score to finish a 5-play, 68-yard drive.

Tattnall followed another three-and-out with a three-play drive, Hunter Lanier and Williams getting 56 yards on the first two plays and Conner Alford going in from the 1 for a 41-0 lead with 5:48 remaining in the first half.

Dominion Christian lost 65 yards on 13 rushes while Tattnall had 27 carries for 246 yards in the first 24 minutes. The Knights finished with minus-13 rushing and the Trojans had 324 yards on the ground.

“I thought we took control of the line of scrimmage,” Hester said. “We probably could have thrown it more. All these folks would like me to throw it more, but we win pretty good without throwing it a lot.”

A well-rested Parker — the starters didn’t break a sweat in the second half, at least not from playing — was naturally happy to be part of a team that handed Hester yet another milestone.

“It really wasn’t that big a discussion out on the field,” he said. “But in the locker room, we all talked about it, making sure that we got it for him. We wanted to be the class that got it.”
GSU safety Michael Hall enjoys second chance at game

By Ken Sugiura

@ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photos @ Georgia State University

Michael Hall arrived at Georgia State to learn to heal injuries, not inflict them.

Serious and bright, Hall enrolled in the fall of 2007, when a football team at the school was merely an idea. Hall had helped his high school claim a state championship as a senior, but he put the game in his past. He wanted to become a doctor.

But football called, and Hall eventually answered. Four autumns removed from his previous football season, Georgia State's aspiring physical therapist also is a punishing member of the special teams.

Looking back to when he first learned GSU would have a team, Hall said, "It never occurred to me that I'd be in this situation today, actually on the team."

Hall likely will be on the field plenty for the Panthers' game Saturday at Campbell, the team's fourth game in school history. He plays on three of the four special-teams units and plays safety on some passing-down packages.

"He's a great tackler, and he can play," safety Brandon Jones said. Also, "He uses a lot of medical terms and a lot of big words."

Hall arrived at Georgia State from Dublin intent on experiencing college life. The first person in his immediate family to attend a four-year college, he pledged a fraternity and joined a variety of student organizations. He worked part-time jobs and volunteered. And while he cried while watching football as a freshman, his football days were behind him. He had helped Dublin High to a share of the 2006 Class AA championship -- the Irish tied with Charlton County High in the final -- but even when Georgia State announced in April 2008 that it would field a team, he wasn't interested.

Hall, the younger of two children of a single mother who had joined the Army to support her family, was determined to follow the path he had laid out for himself.

"He has always been shooting for the stars from day one," said Hall's mother, Debra Cooper.

But the more he learned about the team, the more he became interested. He had known about coach Bill Curry, for example, because Hall was an Alabama fan, and Curry had coached there.

Last fall, Hall went to an open tryout and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds despite having hardly exercised since coming to college. He was offered a spot on the team, and later Curry offered him a half-scholarship.

"For the most part, I did feel like I was reneging on what I came here for, I really did," Hall said. "But I love the game, so it's kind of like, what do you say?"

Hall has been surprised by football's time demands, but it hasn't stopped him from taking 18 hours and also helping charter a campus group that seeks to support exercise-science students. Hall, who holds a 3.3 GPA as an exercise-science major, compensates by typically getting about five hours of sleep.

He is on track to graduate by the end of next summer and plans to apply to Emory and Georgia State's physical-therapy schools and Emory's nutrition program for his doctorate. He is a junior and has a season remaining, but is keeping quiet about playing next year.

Hall has relished the laughing and joking with teammates and the chance to showcase his hard work in front of thousands. On Georgia State's first kickoff in the opener -- Hall's first play in four years -- he outran teammates to make the first tackle in school history. He calls playing football again "a blessing."

Some decisions, it would seem, are worth reversing.

I am not old or anything, but to sit out of something for that long, you would think that you would think that you wouldn't be able to bounce back, but I bounced back," Hall said. "I'm surprised."

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Porter aims to make noise in lieutenant governor race
By Aaron Gould Sheinin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
2:14 p.m. Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Carol Porter knows she has a difficult challenge over the next 45 days as she attempts to knock off a Republican incumbent in the race for lieutenant governor.

A Democrat from Dublin who's never held elected office, Porter sees an advantage in running from the outside, especially as an outsider who's seen how the insiders operate.

Her husband, DuBose Porter, is the outgoing leader of the state House Democrats who made a failed bid for the party's nomination as governor. So Carol Porter says she has seen enough of how the General Assembly works to know that it's time for a new direction.

"I don't want to paint every politician as corrupt because they're not, but we have had a few in leadership positions who have used their power to help their friends," Porter said Wednesday in an interview with reporters and editors at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, whom Porter hopes to unseat, is scheduled for a similar interview Sept. 27.

Porter counts Cagle among those leaders who have abused the public trust. Cagle, she said, helped Republican gubernatorial nominee Nathan Deal in Deal's attempts to preserve a state program that earned Deal tens of thousands of dollars a year. Those attempts led to a congressional ethics investigation and inquiries from a federal grand jury. Cagle has never been accused of wrongdoing in the case, and Deal has said he did nothing wrong.

Porter said the need for new leadership extends to the fact that current leadership too often abdicates its role in setting policy to an endless number of blue-ribbon commissions and study committees.

"There are lots of solutions in water, transportation and education," she said. "But if you analyze how many of the recommendations of all these blue-ribbon panels are ever implemented, you'll find we're not listening to what the people of Georgia are telling us."

Porter, who along with her husband operates a chain of small newspapers in Middle Georgia, said she sees firsthand the impact the economy and the state's budget problems are having on small businesses.

"My business touches every business in nine counties," she said. "I hear firsthand their stories. I'm not in an ivory tower. Small businesses cannot handle the burden placed on them."

Porter said across-the-board cuts to the state budget are foolish and that she would take a systematic approach to cuts, while emphasizing money for infrastructure and education.

She favors an approach that eliminates emotion and partisanship from budgeting.

"Let's put every option on the table," she said.

On transportation, Porter said passenger rail is a top priority in moving the state forward, both in terms of quality of life and in the state's ability to attract business. She said she fears that the transportation bill that passed the General Assembly this year is rife with problems that must be fixed next year. The bill called regional referendums in 2012 to ask voters to raise their sales tax to pay for local transportation projects.

Porter said she fears voters in rural parts of the state will reject the tax hike but thinks that it will pass in the metro Atlanta area, which might be enough.

"We can't have our major city in gridlock," Porter said.

From a Middle Georgia perspective, Atlanta traffic has to improve to attract business to the south. If companies can't get products to or from their Middle Georgia locations because of gridlock to the north, they're going to look elsewhere, she said.

On education, Porter said she would commit to continuing a state investigation into alleged cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta public schools.

"It absolutely must be continued," she said. "I think we knew there was a lot of cheating going on for years."

On immigration, Porter said Georgia is being forced to act because of federal inaction, but she isn't ready to commit to a specific approach.


Air Force's Cochran on the move again, back to quarterback

2010-08-25 19:49:43
@ The Colorado Springs Gazette

Ben Cochran is on the move again, and this time it appears to be for good.

Cochran, who was at safety for the first three weeks of Air Force’s training camp, has moved to quarterback and will remain there, coach Troy Calhoun said.

Cochran started his Falcons career at quarterback, moved to safety, but filled in last year at quarterback when injuries hit. Cochran had 88 passing yards and a touchdown against BYU.

The move was less about concern at quarterback – though, Calhoun hadn’t yet decided among the freshmen vying for the No. 3 spot behind Tim Jefferson and Connor Dietz – and more about Cochran’s overall value to the team. Calhoun said playing quarterback will give Cochran more time to work on special teams.

“We just felt like what his role needs to be to help our football team is to be a holder, compete for the punter job, be on kickoff return, be on punt block, and be ready to go in at quarterback,” Calhoun said.

Cochran has been mentioned as a possibility for the punting competition, and Calhoun said this could give him a fair shot to work on punting.

“There has to be a good segment of every practice where he works on being a specialist,” Calhoun said. “This allows him to do that.”

Cochran said early in camp that he could play quarterback on no notice if he had to, but he wasn’t expecting to actually be playing quarterback this season.

“It was a pretty big surprise this year,” Cochran said.

“I wasn’t expecting to unless something happened and I had to, but if coach feels this is the best for the team for me to move over and work on some punting and holding and doing the special teams I’m on, that’s what I’m going to do. Whatever needs to be done.”

Cochran did look sharp passing the ball Wednesday. He had a few strong throws, including a long touchdown to wide-open freshman Ike Ariguzo.

The coaching staff also felt comfortable moving Cochran because a couple of backup safeties, P.J. Adeji-Paul and freshman Anthony Wooding, have had good camps.

But special teams will be Cochran’s biggest impact. When asked if Cochran could become a good punter with more practice time, Calhoun replied “absolutely.”

“There have been times he’s been good, he just hasn’t hit a stride in consistency,” Calhoun said. “I’d just like to see, if he has a chance to spend more time and dedicate that way, what he can do.”

Cochran has always been versatile, and maybe that has set him back. The coaching staff figures this is a way to let him focus a little and make a bigger impact.

“With all the meetings and the whole bit, we were pulling him in way too many directions,” Calhoun said.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


The Sculptor of Our Lives

Mildred Youngblood was a sculptor of sorts. For a nominal fee, this meek, compassionate, but firm, kindergarten teacher would take your child and mold him into a form, one which would last a lifetime. Day by day, with words of wisdom, acts of kindness, and a gentle smile, Mrs. Youngblood gently impressed and molded the hearts of her students with old-fashioned Christian values. As she would see them many years later, she would be reminded of their names, too many to keep a count. A modest woman, Mrs. Youngblood never touted herself as a great kindergarten teacher, but to those of us who were lucky enough to have been in her class, we will never forget the sweet gentle little lady, whose loving hands and tender heart shaped and formed us into who we are today.

Born on the first day of December 1912 in the town of Orianna, Ga., Mildred Toler Youngblood was youngest of six children of Wm. H. and Elmina Rebecca Toler. Mildred attended schools in Orianna and even a year in Greenville, S.C. before graduating from Adrian High in 1930.

Mildred Youngblood's formal education in teaching came at the Georgia State Teacher's College in Athens, where she and her friends, Francis and Ethel, had grand times. They enjoyed going down to the train station to greet the Georgia band on its out of town trips. The girls existed on a diet of peanut butter sandwiches, some times with jelly on them. They hid their goodies from home and rationed them for special occasions. After leaving her life long friend Francis Connors behind, Mildred returned to Orianna. Feeling it was best to stay near home and build up her financial resources, Mildred taught first at Condor School in eastern Laurens County before teaching at Norristown and Gillis Springs and a year at Perkins School in Jenkins County.

Mildred began to think and pray about teaching again. Another school year had started when in October of 1954, Mrs. Grace Cowart contacted Mildred and asked her about taking over the operation of Rosewood Kindergarten on Rosewood Drive. With school already in session, Mrs. Youngblood was afraid that her students would leave. Facing the decision with mixed emotions, Mrs. Youngblood prayed some more. Her prayer was answered. "Momma always said 'If I would furnish the kindergarten, then God will furnish the children,' " said daughter Rebecca Gainous. "She always had a waiting list," said daughter Nancy Thacker. And, so for the next 32 years Mildred Youngblood taught.

Known for her fantastic plays, Youngblood's students first performance was Tiny Tot's Circus. Robert Dunn, the ringmaster, led the show which featured Ted Calhoun, Hannah Hall, Susan Bracewell, Joy Tyre, Clayton Cordell and many, many others. Among the early shows were Down on Old McDonald's Farm, Mrs. McGregor's Garden, and Operetta - A Little Bit of Holland. "It amazes me how she did those programs. No child ever felt pressured and every child had a good time," Rebecca remembered. "Although I was not in kindergarten, I was in her first program, as the animal trainer," Thacker fondly recalled.

In fact, both of Nancy's children, Janet and Norman, attended their grandmother's kindergarten. "I was looking through her notebooks of her student's class records and I found that my son Norman's name appeared often in mother's bad behavior notes. Janet's name didn't appear that much. She showed no difference in the way she treated her own grandchildren," laughed Mrs. Thacker. And, both of Mrs. Youngblood's daughters became teachers as well. Nancy taught for 31 years and Rebecca even more as a kindergarten teacher, just like her mother. Nancy's daughter, Janet Thacker James, also teaches, bringing their combined total to more than 110 years. "We did morning calendar and recognized birthdays. They were a big deal! Everyone would sing and you got to pick something from the treasure box. Of course we would say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing patriotic songs, ABC songs, etc.," Janet fondly remembered.

With more than a thousand students, there are thousands of stories. There is the often told story about the boy who had a difficult time coping with being in school for the first time. In a weeping voice, the young boy's response to Mrs. Youngblood's plea to help whined, "Sometimes a Coca-Cola helps." More than a dozen years later, Younblood purchased a six-pack of bottled Cokes and shipped them to the young man as a high school graduation present.

There was a time when Mrs. Youngblood answered her front door. It was an aspiring politician. He asked her for her vote, but she declined to commit to him believing her vote was a private choice. Just as the candidate walked away, he turned and said, "You are Mrs. Youngblood aren't you?" She said, "Yes, I am." Then the man said, "You taught me in kindergarten. I will never forget that one day. I was on the playground playing and I asked you to tie my shoes." Then he said, "You said, 'Yes, I will. Let's sit down on the steps and I'll teach you how to tie your shoes.' You were so kind and patient."

Mildred Youngblood was famous for her thinking steps, two or three of them actually. I don't remember sitting on those steps, maybe I did. My brother Henry did. He remembers, "She taught me how to say the Lord's Prayer, set a table, and how to stand quietly in the corner while the others went out to recess." Norman Thacker recalled, "I spent a fair amount of time there and I remember her sitting me down and reminding me why I was there. She would then come back several minutes later and ask if I thought about what I did? Finally she would ask me what I was going to do to correct what I did? If I didn't have the right answers, then I would continue to sit and watch all my friends play." I remember a classmate being the victim of a school shooting while sitting on the steps. The victim, or the shooter, still lives in Dublin today, but the insignificant bb wound in the knee is just one more fading memory of a time nearly fifty years ago.

David Burns learned a lot about staying quiet and in his seat during lesson time. "She sure knew how to use that Bo-lo paddle, but she had a positive effect on my life. Education could surely use more teachers with the skills and heart of Mrs. Youngblood," Burns maintained. Dwight Stewart remembered going down the street with the class to a house with a television and watching John Glenn orbit the Earth. "We all sat in a circle around the television," Stewart remembered. Dwight also remembered a class mate, who wore a dunce cap, and who shall remain nameless. "You had to be pretty bad to wear dunce cap and he was," Stewart exclaimed! Stewart's opinion was confirmed by my sister Janet Greer, who observed the boy still wearing the cap in his second year of kindergarten.

When she returns to Dublin, Lorene Flanders Campbell will try to steer her car down Rosewood. "I still go down that street just to remember the magic of being there. The playhouse! - making instant pudding in the back room." Lorene fondly remembered. Gayle Stinson was one of the lucky. When she was seven, her family moved across the street from her old kindergarten. After the kids went home, Gayle had her own play ground right across from her home.

Janet James, in summing up the life of her grandmother and teacher, probably said it best, "She was not rich in money, but she was rich in love. Her legacy of generosity and service to others is forever in my heart." Janet speaks to two passages in a book which her grandmother gave her, "If you plant a few seeds, and then let go of your kids and let them grow, then those seeds will turn into something good. Home has a good deal more to do with your heart than with your house."

Earlier this summer, Mildred Youngblood went to her heavenly home with her heavily underlined, annotated Bible in one hand and an overflowing treasure box of a lifetime of fond memories of friends and family, good deeds done, and priceless duplicate sculptures in the other. There waiting for her at the gates was her late husband Elbert, who was always around the kindergarten helping the children out of their cars and through the gate and keeping the place neat and tidy.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Bombing engineer really a 'gentle giant'

By Mike Wynn
The Augusta Chronicle

Staff Writer

Friday, Aug 20, 2010

METTER, Ga. --- Whenever she was in a sour mood, Lillie Jenkins could always count on "Rah Ra" to provide the tonic to draw her out of the funk.

Her middle son, whose given name is William R. Strange III, would pop in a CD of one of his favorite soul singers -- Marvin Gaye. Al Green or Johnny Taylor -- and ask her to dance. When she did, the real fun began.

"I'd go in the living room, and then I start dancing and he'd know I'll fall," she said as the memory prompted a hearty laugh shared with daughter LaShonda Burke as they sat at a kitchen table in Jenkins' home outside Metter, Ga.

"He know I'll fall. And then I fall and then they just stand there and laugh at me."

Strange loved old school R&B, but found his musical calling as a member of a rap group whose lyrics were often raw and profane. As befitting a rapper, Strange would often put up a hard front, but that image belied another one, of a kid who took home economics when he attended Swainsboro High School to learn how to cook and bake.

"He was really a big baby," Burke said. "When he went out among his friends, he had this role he had to portray. He was this hard fellow, wasn't afraid of nothing. He was nothing but a gentle giant."

Little contradictions. Hardly surprising for someone still a teenager and trying to find his place in the world. This search for self eventually led Strange to join the military.

Strange signed up at an Army recruiting station in Statesboro, Ga., a month after graduating in May 2003. He would be dead less than a year later, killed when the Humvee he was riding inside was hit by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad on April 2, 2004.

He was 19 -- the youngest of the 18 Augusta area service members who died in the war.

LOOKING BACK at that chaotic time six years ago, Jenkins now can point to things she believes were signs of the heartache to come.

Two weeks before Rah was killed, her husband, Ricky, a truck driver, had to make a run to Delaware. Jenkins, as she often did when he had to make long trips, rode along.

The delivery was to Dover Air Force Base, home of the military's largest mortuary and where the dead, in war and peacetime, are taken for processing. Jenkins said she doesn't know what her husband delivered, but she knew the base's history.

The Sunday before her son died, he called her from Iraq. The conversation was short because he had to leave for a mission. As a member of the 91st Engineer Battalion out of Fort Hood, Texas, one of his duties was setting up observation posts. At the end of the conversation, she told him to take care of himself. As usual, he told her, "I'm straight." But this time, Rah added something else.

"I know the next two seconds of my life ain't promised me," Jenkins recalls him saying to her. "I know if I go out, I know it's a chance I might not come back. I'm not afraid of that. I'm ready.

"When Rah got killed, it was like everything that I done, God was preparing me but I just didn't know it."

His decision to go into the service wasn't a surprise to Jenkins. She and LaShonda encouraged him to enlist, hoping that a stint in the military would get him away from some of the negative forces waiting to ensnare him in his hometown of Adrian, Ga.

Jenkins said some thugs were trying to convince him to go down the same road as them. When he pulled away, the family feared they might harm him.

"Seeing where his life was in Adrian and seeing where he was going in the military, I really don't think we made a bad choice," Jenkins said. "I really don't. Because, had he stayed down in Adrian, he would have probably ended up hurting somebody or somebody would have hurt him. And that's the way it was going."

A buddy of Strange, Jonathan Sapp, can relate. The two were part of a seven-member rap group called Zulu Mafia, which played at local clubs in and around Emanuel County. He left the town of about 600 residents and one traffic light shortly after Rah's death, coming to a similar conclusion as his friend about his destiny if he stayed.

Sapp now lives in Atlanta and drives trucks. After Strange died, he wrote and recorded a rap song about meeting him in heaven, titling it I'll See You There .

"In Adrian, there's a lot of dope," said Sapp, who still raps part time and goes by the moniker J/Prophet. "There's nothing to do there. If you don't have a vision and you're just floating, there are some bad elements just waiting to take you down."

He believes that had Strange lived, his friend would have pursued a rap career after leaving the service. Sapp said Strange was excellent at rhyming lyrics and the two pushed each other to become better. Being the only white guy in the group, Sapp sometimes had more to prove to audiences.

But anytime someone tried to "mess" with him at a performance, Rah always had his back, Sapp said. At about 6-foot-2 and built like an athlete, Strange wasn't someone to tangle with.

"He would take up for you," Sapp said. "Rah was a very good guy. He tried to act really hard at first, but he had a really, really good heart. We connected at that level."

Sapp said he wasn't surprised that Strange joined the military because he admired his older brother, Perry Burke, who was already several years into a career in the Marines.

The last time Sapp saw Strange was before he deployed. Sapp remembers shaking his hand and telling him that he loved him.

He also told Rah one other thing: "I said don't go over there and get killed."

STRANGE WAS supposed to have company when he enlisted. LaShonda planned to join her younger brother in the Army, but she got cold feet.

"When I found out he was going on, I'm like, 'OK, I got to do something, so I'm going to go, too,' " said Burke, who is seven years older than Strange. "Well, he was actually serious, but I was on the fence."

Once he joined, Strange took his service seriously, particularly because of what he wanted to do while there: Blow stuff up.

Doing demolition in the engineer battalion suited a fearless streak his parents said he had, although Strange admitted in a letter to Jenkins that he didn't like being in the infantry. His assignment to this unit later led to a funny misunderstanding by his mother.

When he came home on leave after basic training, she recalled asking him about fixing a washing machine that was on the blink, thinking that he had been trained to repair things since he was in the engineer battalion.

"I can't fix it," Jenkins said he told her, "but I can blow it up."

Rah, Burke said, was a born actor, who would make a simple paddling by their mother seem as if he'd been brutalized.

Getting up from the kitchen table, Burke limped around the living room and moaned, mimicking how her brother acted after his spanking.

"He would find some Ace bandages and when she'd whip him he'd hop around the house after he'd got the whipping, 'Oh you broke my leg. You broke my leg,' " she said. "He would have this leg bandaged up, and Mama would have just tapped him. He would go in the room and he'd come out the room like he was crippled. He was trying to play her, trying to make her feel bad."

Jenkins knew that.

"I'd look at Shonda and she'd look at me and I'd just turn my head and laugh," she said.

Making her laugh was something Rah enjoyed doing. Another thing he loved was fishing. He liked to brag about his prowess, but Jenkins showed him who was top dog on one memorable outing.

"He said, 'Mama, I'm going to show you how to catch fish,' " she said. "We went to this pond and we got over there and I was reeling them in; he ain't caught none. I said, 'Rah, what's the matter?' He said, ...'Man I can't get no fish.' I done caught about 10."

His father, William, who lives near Jenkins down the same dirt road in rural Candler County, said he taught his son how to fish, just like his father had taught him. They'd go fishing pretty much every weekend and have father and son talks.

As he got older, Rodriquez -- the full middle name his father uses instead of its shortened nickname version of Rah Ra -- discovered something more fun: girls. They went fishing less and less after that, Strange recalled, smiling.

"It's amazing how quick they grow up," Strange said. "How those years just went by. One day they're just little babies and the next day, they grown. Time flies. You just wish you had spent more time with them."

DECIDING TO talk about Rah and dredge up the lingering hurt is difficult for his family. Each can recall with crystal clarity the moment the two Army officers, one a chaplain, pulled into their driveways to deliver the devastating news. Not so much about the moments immediately after.

Jenkins takes comfort in noting that her son's death inspired others. She said a number of people who knew him well, and some who didn't, told her his death prompted them to serve their country, too.

She admits that her faith in God was shaken after he was killed. As she puts it, "I was mad at the military. I was mad at God. I was mad at everybody."

Jenkins said she later came to realize that God doesn't make mistakes. There's a reason for everything.

"God don't take something and he don't leave you nothing. He replaces it with something."

She glanced at LaShonda's boyfriend, Felles Grant, after saying that. Grant is a sergeant first class with the 230th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade of the Georgia National Guard out of Atlanta. The two met a year after Rah was killed, through one of her cousins.

Grant was in Iraq from April 17, 2003, to April 17, 2004. Part of his time there overlapped with Strange, although they didn't know or run into each other.

The two have something else in common -- they share the same birthday, Feb. 16.

Burke was floored when she found out. For Jenkins, it was much more than coincidence.

"God works in mysterious ways," she said. "I'm a firm believer of that."