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Protecting the Home Front

Mom Is Serving Her Country, and Dad Is Serving Dinner

By Peter R. Madsen
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, August 16, 2004; Page C09

I could probably make this story all about war.

I could tell about the violence and inhumanity our soldiers face each and every day when they drive across Baghdad, Nasiriyah or Samarra. There is a certain fatalism that occurs when the nightly rocket and mortar attacks never seem to kill very many. I could write about those things, but I won't. You hear it enough. So do I.

I am a father of three, a former army aviator, a sometimes retail and distribution manager, and a husband. We live in North Carolina.

Peter Madsen is looking after children Erin, Tyler and Joshua while his wife is in Iraq. (Family Photos)

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My wife, an army medic, lives in Iraq.

She works at one of the Theater Internment Facilities we have heard so much about, since the pictures came out. She works at night, when the heat won't get to her, providing medical care and comfort to the prisoners. Some of them are bombers and killers -- others have just been caught up in the maelstrom of war.

But this story isn't about her, either. I know her suffering. I hear it on the phone and see it in her letters, but this isn't her time.

This is my time.

This is my children's time, and this is our story.

We were a typical American family until my wife, in search of entrance in the Army's physician assistant program, went on active duty. Please don't misunderstand me: I supported her quest then and I do today. She is a very beautiful woman, an excellent student, a fabulous mother and the love of my life. I will support her in anything she wants to do. I had my turn and now it is hers.

She was in North Carolina and I was in New York, sick in bed, when she called me with the news she was going to Iraq. I have made those calls to her before and yet, despite that and a daily dose of CNN, I was stunned. We agreed not to tell the kids until we were all together. We hoped the closeness would somehow minimize the reality of the message.

I sat in bed that night telling myself over and over that I could do this. Then the panic set in and I cried. I was a former Army officer, a Black Hawk pilot and a man, and all I could do was cry because my wife was going to war. I had no idea how to get the kids to school on time, let alone how to feed them on a daily basis. I was not prepared for this.

My wife is one of those rare people who were born to provide care and comfort for others, and because of that people are drawn to her. They inundate her with letters and e-mail and phone calls, and as soon as the word about her deployment got out, people were on her doorstep, in her mailbox, and in her e-mail. They wanted to comfort her, to encourage her and to cry with her.

I felt totally alone.

We decided to move to Fort Bragg, N.C., so the kids and I would be with other military families. We had spent the first seven years of our marriage surrounded by military families, and it had helped when I was deployed. We assumed it would be the same when she was deployed. Lesson No. 1: Just because they have changed the name to spouses club from wives club does not make men welcome. If I were deployed, I'm not sure that I would feel comfortable with my wife hanging out with another soldier's husband.

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