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At Glenn Dale Mother's Table, Three Reasons for Saying Grace

Sons' Return From Iraq Answers Woman's Prayers

By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page B08

It would be the first time in 17 months that the whole family would sit down to dinner together, and Ann Swann knew exactly what to prepare.

There had to be fried chicken, candied yams, corn pudding, and macaroni and cheese, the unanimous favorites of her three sons, Henry III, 27, and twins Ryan and Bryan, 24. She decided to add fried fish, not so much because it was a favorite of the boys, but because it had often been on the table back when they used to eat together every day. For dessert, she whipped up the cookies she'd been baking for them since they were toddlers -- chocolate chip and sugar.

At a long-awaited dinner, Ann Swann makes sure her family has everything it needs. At the table are Henry, second from left, Bryan and Ryan. (Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)

"The meal had to be very special because it was our first meal together in so long," said Swann, 53, of Glenn Dale. "It had to be special because it celebrated my sons all being back home. . . . It celebrated us being back together as a family again."

This time six months ago, Swann was eating dinner alone in her Prince George's County home and praying that one day she would share her table again with her sons.

Wednesday's celebration dinner was the first family gathering since November 2003, when Henry, an Army Reserve sergeant, was deployed to Iraq. His deployment was followed a few months later by that of Ryan and Bryan, sergeants in the Marine Corps Reserve, leaving Swann to eat alone every night and worry that she might be left without any family if her sons met tragedy while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Moved by Swann's plight, Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) has proposed a measure that would limit the deployment of immediate family members into "high-danger areas" to one per family. Service personnel would have the option of being assigned to areas where they would not be susceptible to hostile fire, he said.

Wynn said he sent the proposal to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and to the committee's ranking Democrat, Ike Skelton of Missouri, asking that it be considered "as a free-standing measure" or included in the next defense budget.

The measure seeks "to safeguard families by limiting the deployment of immediate family members to combat zones," he wrote to Hunter. "Given the importance of this matter, I would like to work on this bill in a bipartisan manner."

Swann is among several parents who have seen all their children sent to war since President Bush launched Operation Iraqi Freedom two years ago. Her eldest, Henry, returned from his deployment last month, and the twins surprised her by coming back from Iraq two weeks ago. They all made it home to Glenn Dale this week.

Neither the Department of Defense nor any of the armed services has a prohibition on sending all of the siblings in a family into combat, officials said. Service personnel assigned to the war can seek a deferment based on family hardship, requests considered on an individual basis.

Also, a Pentagon directive allows a sibling or other family member to request a transfer from combat or a hostile-duty station if a sibling is killed, captured, listed as missing or permanently, completely disabled.

Wynn said his measure would be an extension of that directive, known as the Sullivan Rule for five brothers killed on a Navy ship in World War II.

Military officials said the armed services don't track siblings or other family members. The process would be complicated and time consuming because many siblings and parents have different last names and live in different areas, they said. If Wynn's measure became law, a Pentagon spokesman said, widespread adjustments to deployment policy would be likely.

If the measure is "received favorably," Wynn said, it could become law in three to six months. He is optimistic. "We don't want to compromise the military readiness in any way, but people do see the reasonableness of this," he said.

Swann said she supports Wynn's effort. "It would really help the families, because there is a lot of stress and anxiety for family members who have loved ones over there, especially when you have all of them there," she said.

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