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Deployed troops’ families face tough times at Thanksgiving

MIDWEST CITY, Okla. (BP)–Thanksgiving: a time for families to gather and thank God for all he has provided.
For many people across the United States, though, this Thanksgiving is tough, thanks to Operation Desert Thunder. That is the code name for the United States’ response to the latest antics of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, the United Nations required Iraq to allow regular inspections to ensure it is not manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Hussein has balked at various junctures at allowing the inspectors do their job, then backed down when military action was imminent. The most recent episode was in mid-November.
Hussein’s antics exact a terrible emotional toll on the families left behind in the United States, as exemplified by a mother named Rosemary, whose last name will not be used to guard her privacy.
Rosemary’s husband, Joel, is an aircraft commander on an Airborne Warning Air Control System (AWACS) plane stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Okla.
The First Baptist Church, Midwest City, member said she is having a hard time being thankful this year.
She said their family life has been in constant flux “since the first big pickup in February. Just before Valentine’s Day, he got a two-day notice and went to Saudi for two months.”
Rosemary said all the AWACS crews are on a regular rotation, so their families are used to planning around that. These short-notice deployments are tough, she said.
“He was home for a week, then went out again,” she said. “He had worked hard to make sure his rotation is this time of year, because his brother is getting married in December, and he wanted to be there. Now, we don’t know if he will make it or not.
“He had the mentality we will go in, do what it needs, be back in a few weeks. I just don’t feel that he will back that quick.”
Joel’s parents had just come to visit from Illinois when he was called back to duty.
“I am very proud of my husband and what he does,” Rosemary emphasized. “It’s just hard on us when he is called back so quickly.”
The couple met while in high school in Kimball Hill, a small town of 300 in southern Illinois.
“When I was in junior high school I made my list of what my ideal man would be, and a list of what he couldn’t be,” Rosemary recalled. “The top two on the ‘can’t’ list were military and pilot. Now he is both.”
She said she never planned to leave southern Illinois, and her family is still there.
By the time the two started dating, though, Joel was in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, so Rosemary “knew from the get-go that he would be in the military, but we didn’t really know what it was like.”
“He loves his job and worked very hard to become a pilot, but sometimes you don’t realize that the decisions you make at 18 will affect you at age 30, when you have a family and children,” she said.
Rosemary and Joel have two sons, a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old. Rosemary said it is “really hard on them. The 5-year-old understands when dad is leaving. When he is in Saudi, we can send him e-mail, so he can tell his dad what is happening in school.”
This was her son’s first year in soccer, though, and his dad did not see any games until the last one.
“He wanted his dad to be there, and he wanted his dad to help the coach like some of the other dads, but that is just not possible,” she said.
Being gone is also hard on Joel because his youngest son, Luke, has changed every time he sees him.
“He started walking in February when Joel was gone and started talking this last time,” she said.
Rosemary said it sometimes is “a little overwhelming as a single parent, but God sustains me. We have been extremely blessed by people from the base and the church.”
When their house had plumbing problems, a church member showed up. When the television quit, another member showed up. When their van broke down, a worker at the nearby General Motors plant came by.
“It’s those little things Joel does that I really, really miss when he’s gone,” Rosemary said.
“People say, ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ but you just do it; you have to,” she said. “I don’t feel like I am doing anything great or big; this is just my life.
“I can’t fall apart because I have two kids to take care of,” she said. “But I have my moments, when no one is around.”
Rosemary said she tries to keep informed about what is going on in the Middle East, but she doesn’t want to know the details.
“I don’t worry about his safety, either,” she said. “I can’t think along those lines: Leave that to the Lord.
“I want to be informed, but I don’t want to be terrified.”
When Joel left at 4 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, Rosemary said she wasn’t fully awake, but she told Joel “it feels really weird, sending your husband off to war.”
The couple is too young to remember Vietnam, and he joined right after the Persian Gulf War, so she said they really don’t have any experience with true conflict.
“When the Gulf War was going on, we were still going to college,” she recalled. “We would look at the news and say, ‘That’s too bad that’s going on.’ It just doesn’t hit you hard like it does when it’s your life being affected.”
Rosemary said the strangest thing to her is that a man she doesn’t know and has never met — Saddam Hussein — can affect her life so much.
“He has my life in his hands, because everything he does affects everything about my life,” she said.
She said it is also interesting that Saddam does something like this every year around Christmas, which he knows is an important time for Christians.
“We had never been apart for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” she noted. “I am not looking forward to Thanksgiving.
“I have a lot of things to be thankful for, but I don’t feel really thankful right now.”
She said her prayer during this time of Thanksgiving is that God will watch over her husband and give him an assignment so he can stay home with his family.

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  • Dave Parker