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Serving Her Country: Women in the Military
SERVING HER COUNTRY: Veteran recalls message traffic on day of terrorist attacks

MOVILLE, Iowa | When asked why she enlisted in the U.S. Navy after high school, Lois Wright pauses, then laughs before offering an explanation.

"Why the Navy? Well, because the Air Force recruiter stood me up twice," she says.

Lois Wright, the daughter of Wally and June James, graduated from Gulf Coast Christian Academy, a high school in Pensacola, Florida, in May 1997. After taking the summer off, she went to see the Air Force recruiter to enlist. The recruiter was gone. Twice.

"The Navy recruiter worked in the adjacent building," Wright recalls. "The Navy recruiter noticed me and asked me, 'What's the deal?'"

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The Navy recruiter sold the 18-year-old on the benefits of Navy service, the branch with which Wright's father served.

"We're a strong Navy and Army family," she says.

Two weeks later, Wright was headed to Montgomery, Alabama for processing to boot camp in the Great Lakes. She would remain there for training in computer technology and communications.

"I loved it," she says.

Wright was shipped to Guam to handle satellite communications for the Navy from 1998 to 2000. Guam, she remembers was beautiful, and the place where she gave birth to her first son, Brandon Hirtz, on the day before Thanksgiving in 1999. The baby's father, Brad Hirtz, served in the U.S. Navy. He died of a brain aneurism in 2013, just 37 years old.

"Guam is similar to Hawaii," she said. "And it has lots of World War II history."

Wright left Guam for the Navy's telecommunications station in San Diego, California, where she helped handle message traffic for 800 different Naval commands in the Pacific fleet.

"Message traffic from the Navy, Army and Air Force all came through our message center on five different systems," she says.

Wright, who served there from 2000 to 2004, helped create a system after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "The system would allow us to send high-speed specific traffic to whatever command it needed to go," she says. "That system is still in use today."

Wright was the petty officer in charge of the message center when terrorists struck on that morning of September 11. It would become the most memorable day of her military career.

"I'm on duty, seven months pregnant at the time (with daughter Joanna Leslie) and all of our equipment alarms go off," she says. "The officers came down to help and that was the one and only time I got to tell an admiral what to do."

Wright and her fellow staff members didn't leave work for 48 hours, a time that now is a bit of a blur in her mind.

"After we found out what happened, I was scared," she says. "We had divers around us on Coronado Island making sure nothing was coming at us."

Baby Joanna was born a couple of months later, on Nov. 19, 2001.

Lois would serve until being honorably discharged on June 22, 2004, whereupon she returned to Iowa to care for her parents.

"My dad had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002; and my mom had suffered a heart attack," she says. "I decided in 2003 that as soon as my enlistment was up, I'd go home to help them."

Lois and her two children relocated to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where her parents resided. She worked several different jobs in Council Bluffs, including one at a call center where she met Thomas Wright, a native of Moville. The two became friends and dated for more than a year before Thomas asked her parents if he could marry their daughter.

"My parents stood up for us at our wedding on June 30, 2006," Lois says.

The couple moved to Moville in August of 2006, choosing to live in Thomas' childhood home. While Thomas helps area farmers, Lois serves as a lead associate for Dollar General in Moville. They also have daughters Christina and Rebecca.

Lois' father died in 2015, her mother the following year. She remains thankful for her decision to come home to help care for them, although it took her away from her life with the U.S. Navy.

Photos: Serving her country

"I'm thankful for my service," she says. "The Navy made me grow up. I had a larger purpose in life with the Navy and put aside the pettiness that young people deal with."

She still gets a taste of the military through her role as commander of the Wink-Sparks American Legion Post No. 303 in Moville. Wright was elected to the post in June.

"I love being involved with our post as it's given me an opportunity to work with and get to know other veterans," she says. "We do the honor guard, the color guard and try to promote patriotism and Americanism in the schools and our community. We also try to help as many veterans as we can."

Being commander, she adds, has also returned her to her management roots, a role she savored with the Navy.

"It's like I'm back in a supervisory position," she says. "But now I'm dealing with multiple branches, multiple ranks and multiple generations."

She adds, "I'd go back to the Navy in a heartbeat if I could."

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Veteran Lois Wright walks her dogs, Rocco and Leah, in front of her rural Moville home in late October. Wright served in the U.S. Navy in information technology and is currently commander of the Wink-Sparks American Legion Post No. 303 in Moville, Iowa.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal file 

Light decorations are seen outside the Sioux City Public Museum at the end of the 2016 Holiday Lighted Parade in downtown Sioux City. This year's parade will begin 6:15 p.m. Nov. 20.

Downtown for the Holidays scheduled Nov. 20

SIOUX CITY | Christmas decorations are going up in downtown Sioux City, which means this year's Downtown for the Holidays celebration is fast approaching. 

Siouxlanders will be able to enjoy the annual Festival of Trees, opening of Santa's House and the Holiday Lighted Parade in downtown Sioux City Nov. 20. 

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 231 will present the parade at 6:15 p.m. Nov. 20. The parade will begin at Fourth and Iowa streets and will travel down Fourth Street. Floats can enter at no cost, and cash prizes of $150, $100 and $50 will be awarded to first through third place in commercial and non-commercial categories. 

Other events will include free admission to the LaunchPAD Children's Museum, 623 Pearl St., between 3 and 5:30 p.m. with the donation of hand warmers or travel-size toiletries for Sioux City's warming shelter. Evolve Yoga & Wellness, 411 Pearl St., will also offer free hot chocolate. 

Santa Claus will arrive at the Sioux City Public Museum that evening to help light the downtown Christmas tree, then head over to Santa's House at 409 Nebraska St., where children can discuss their Christmas wish lists while enjoying hot chocolate and cookies.

Santa's House will then be open Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. between Nov. 25 and Dec. 21. 

The Festival of Trees will be located in the Ho-Chunk Centre atrium, 600 Fourth St., with bell choir and dance performances. Trees will be on display through this year's annual tree auction, which will occur 6:30 p.m. Nov. 30. Proceeds from the auction will go toward the Community Action Agency's Welcome Home Shelter. 

Registration for the parade is open through Nov. 14 at


The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday did not approve a proposal to hire one paramedic to cover rural areas, as sought by the Woodbury County Emergency Services Department director. A Page A1 story titled "County supervisors decline to fund 3 emergency personnel" in the Journal's Nov. 8 edition incorrectly summarized the vote.

Former Sioux Center teacher charged additionally with 84 counts of sexual abuse

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | An elementary teacher at Sioux Center Christian School arrested last month for committing a lascivious act with a student at the school has been charged with an additional 84 counts of sexual abuse involving "numerous" children, police said Wednesday.  

Curtis Van Dam, 35, of Sioux Center, was arrested Oct. 23 after a complaint was lodged against him five days earlier for inappropriate conduct with a student.

The latest charges are tied to incidents that occurred over a four-year period, between August 2013 and last month. Van Dam now faces 101 felonies and 39 misdemeanors.

The felonies include 72 counts of second-degree abuse, 12 counts of third-degree sexual abuse, 14 counts of sexual exploitation by a teacher, and three counts of lascivious acts with a child.

The alleged acts took place at various locations, including the private school, the release said. 

Police Chief Paul Adkins said the investigation is continuing, and additional charges are possible. Adkins declined to identify the number of alleged victims or their ages.

Van Dam, a fifth-grade teacher at the school, was fired following his arrest last month.

Police searched Van Dam's residence on Oct. 21, two days before his arrest. He is booked into the Sioux County Jail.

Van Dam started teaching at the school after he graduated from Dordt College in 2004. 

Sioux Center Christian School was founded in 1905. According to the school's website, the school has 509 students in grades K-8 for the 2017-18 school year.

In a statement, the school said it removed Van Dam from the school immediately after hearing the initial complaint and terminated him on Oct. 19. The case, the school said, is now "in the hands of our criminal justice system and we trust that justice will be served.

"Though the number of charges do not necessarily reflect the number of students, we are grieved again as we hear the extent of the charges," the school said in the statement. "We’ve wept, now it’s time to weep again. We’ve prayed, now we need to continue praying. We’ve brought our anger and fears to the Lord, and now we need to lay those feelings again at His feet."

The school also encouraged students and their parents to contact authorities if they have more information regarding Van Dam.

"If this news especially hurts because you have suffered or are suffering abuse, we encourage you to bring it out of the realm of secrecy, so that it loses its powerful grip on you. We encourage you to talk to a professional Christian counselor," the statement said.

The school said it is providing "daily support and guidance to students as needed through their teachers and professional counselors." A group session for parents with All Things New Therapy Services was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the school. Another session for parents and 5-8 grade students is scheduled for Nov. 15.