A Shrinking Base
The Ones Back Home
It's summer, and deployment still feels far enough away. Some soldiers buy Harleys or motorbikes. A surprising number are in a rush to get married. On the drive to the Burger King or the base gym, Heroes Walk can look like a landscaping project. But there are signs of what's to come. The PX has just launched its Back to School sale, a reminder of the next important cycle parents will miss. Mothers are starting to notice how clingy their kids have become -- she's such a daddy's girl now, they'll say, I don't know what she'll do when he's gone.
Carrie Moss is an Army wife who's both calm and wants to know everything. "Whatever he'll tell me, I'll take." She knows every detail of how the men in her husband Brennan's battalion got killed or injured, and even some things he doesn't know she knows. Like when she overheard him tell his father on the phone, "Three times, I just knew I was gonna die."
She also knows her husband is one of the "crazy ones," that his view of combat is "when you play football, you don't train just to sit on the bench." And she knows there are some even crazier, like the guy in his battalion who was in a vehicle that exploded. He lost most of his hearing and some of his sight, but downplays his injuries so he can fight with the Special Forces.
She takes comfort in a couple of things: "He's not stupid," and he operates cannons, which means he shoots from a few miles away. And some part of her hopes he'll accept the Army's offer to become a recruiter, although she knows he wouldn't like it. "Either way, I'm not worried," she says.
Unlike her friend Julie Samples. Asked how she feels about the impending deployment, Samples says, without hesitation:
"I'm scared. I'm scared."
For Samples, calm is hard to maintain. She looks at al Qaeda Web sites. She's drawn to articles about the beheadings. "It's so scary over there now. All the suicide bombings and kidnappings. I don't want to use the word, but it's just barbaric."
Last year her 25-year-old daughter Ebony was found dead from an accidental overdose. Now she feels close to families who experience loss but finds no comfort with them.
"Who's that, sweetie?" she asks her daughter Treanna, 3, who has picked up one of the many glamour shots that decorate the living room. "That's my Ebony!" the child answers, referring to a sister she barely knew. This morning the family is busy getting ready for day care, for camp, for their father Corey, a staff sergeant, to go back to training. "The maid is off today," jokes Julie to Corey Jr., 7, as his father hustles Treanna out the door.
Only when her husband and youngest daughter are gone does she confess:
"If he were to die . . . ," she says, unable to speak for a moment. "I don't ever want to go there.
"God is good. He doesn't give you more than you can bear."
For her, waiting is all about praying. She founded a wives group at her church called Prayerfully Waiting. This is their special spouse's prayer: "Lord, give me the greatness of heart to see the difference between duty and his love for me. Give me a task to do each day to fill the time when he is away. While he is in a foreign land, keep him safe in Your loving hand. And when duty is in the field, please protect him and be his shield."
She does not see the need for this war but doesn't blame the president. The thought that a commander in chief may have done this for the wrong reason is just too scary. She "believes in Bush," she says, the way she believes in prayer. It's something she clings to.
While she's talking she notices Corey Jr. behind her. He just won a prize for a Cub Scout essay about how he wanted to be a soldier, she says brightly.
"No I don't," he answers.
"Bang. Bang," he says, pointing his finger at his chest and turning his head to the wall in mock death.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company