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Trying Times: Military Families

July 28, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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TOM BEARDEN: Most of the women in this weekly bible meeting in Fort Carson, Colorado springs have spouses in Iraq, and last week like so many others recently, there was news of another Fort Carson casualty: a trooper in the third armored cavalry regiment.

WOMAN: We pray life for this, God, we pray for our soldiers who under harm’s way.

TOM BEARDEN: Two units from Fort Carson, the third ACR and fourth infantry division’s third brigade combat team were sent to Iraq in late March. Since then, Fort Carson has suffered thirteen soldiers killed, five of them by hostile fire. That’s more than any other U.S. base since the president announced the end of active combat.

MAJ. BILL FOX: Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for loving us.

TOM BEARDEN: Chaplain and Major Bill Fox runs the main chapel, he says these are trying times for the families.

MAJ. BILL FOX: I find it tough, I really do. And I’m a pretty hard guy. But my heart breaks when I see them. I just want to reach out and hug them, you know, and to say it’s going to be okay. But military families usually stick together and they just help one another. If one gets in difficulty the other one is there, one, two, three, four, they’ll all gather together and they’re around. So if there’s a particular casualty you find families just gravitating.

AMY WEST: Thank you, we’ll see you hopefully next week.

TOM BEARDEN: Amy West is one of the bible study group members, her husband Mike is a captain in the fourth infantry division’s operations staff. She had given birth to their second child just four days earlier.

AMY WEST: As you know, Mike is in Iraq and at 3:28 she came and it was, as you say, bittersweet because Mike wasn’t there. He called me six hours after she was born.

AMY WEST: Right after she was born it was hard.

TOM BEARDEN: Why was that?

AMY WEST: I just wanted him here. I wanted him to share in the joy. You know, it’s a beautiful thing, babies are such a blessing, I wanted him to be with me.

TOM BEARDEN: But West, a West Point graduate herself, says her husband’s absence is simply part of his job.

AMY WEST: Our unit was told six to twelve months. So we knew that the possibility was there.

TOM BEARDEN: What happens if it goes longer?

AMY WEST: Then that’s what he’s supposed to do, you know, unfortunately I want him here with me, the selfish side of me, but I know he’s doing what he’s supposed to do.

TOM BEARDEN: Sue Bearer isn’t in the army, but she’s been in Fort Carson since February, taking care of seven grandchildren. Her son and daughter-in-law are both in the army, and both have been sent to Iraq. She had to leave her husband behind in Akron, Ohio and her job as a real estate agent.

TOM BEARDEN: Did you ever think at this stage in your life you’d be taking care of seven kids?

SUE BEARER: Never dreamed it. I’ll tell you what though, it’s the best diet in the world, I’ve lost 38 pounds, let’s face it I’m pushing 60. And it’s a big chore. It’s a big chore.

TOM BEARDEN: She says her son, Sergeant Vaughn Holcomb, been ready to retire in June, plans he had to put on hold.

SUE BEARER: He wants to come home, they all want to come home. My daughter-in-law is having a real hard time with it because she’s been gone even longer from her kids. And kind of her attitude is, I don’t want to hear what’s happening because I can’t do anything about it. I can’t fix it.

TOM BEARDEN: Do either one of them know when they’re coming home?

SUE BEARER: No. No, it’s all, it’s been all hearsay. We hear one time, we think, okay, they’re coming home pretty quick, and then all of a sudden we hear they’re not coming home until next year.

TOM BEARDEN: How long can you stay here?

SUE BEARER: As long as I’m needed. I have to. I mean, there’s, I love the kids, that’s all. I wouldn’t let them down for nothing.

TOM BEARDEN: Sergeant Holcomb is a member of the third ACR, the same unit that lost a soldier to an ambush last week. Bearer worries about her son becoming a target.

SUE BEARER: I’m in more fear now than I ever was. I’m in more fear for them now than I ever was. Like I say, every day you wait to hear from one or the other.

TOM BEARDEN: But he’s not in combat?

SUE BEARER: Right.

TOM BEARDEN: But he is.

SUE BEARER: Yeah, it’s a different kind of combat. That’s the scary part, you know. He’s trained to be a tanker. He can put one together and take it apart. But he’s not trained for the type of things that he might be up against.

WOMAN READING: Dear Joshua and Timothy, I miss you whole bunches, the houses here are very hot, and we all drink lots of water. Thank you for coloring pictures for me. Love, daddy.

TOM BEARDEN: Tammy Simmons’ husband is a chaplain in the fourth infantry division. Captain Terry Simmons is currently stationed north of Baghdad, living out of the back of a Humvee.

TAMMY SIMMONS: When I do watch the news, and I see all the terrifying things, who knows who’s going to be next, and the way I deal with it, when I do see that, is certainly just to pray.

TOM BEARDEN: She takes care of their four children, and like the others wonders when he’ll come home.

TAMMY SIMMONS: It was going to be six month, which would be October. And then it got extended to where I was going to be December, and now nobody is saying anything. So we have no idea when he’s coming home.

TOM BEARDEN: What’s your reaction to that?

TAMMY SIMMONS: Well, two things. First of all, it is a little frustrating. And second of all, though, the way I am dealing with it is I’m thinking, okay, he’s going to stay a year, it will be April, so if he comes back before that, it will be great. That’s the only way to deal with it, I think.

TOM BEARDEN: Last week the Pentagon announced a new rotation plan for units in Iraq. It calls for Fort Carson’s third ACR to be replaced by next March. The fourth infantry division by April. The army chief of staff says a replacement unit should expect to stay for up to a year.