Sunday, February 2, 2003

Marine families sundered

Company readies for deployment to N.C. with Iraq war in prospect

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Marine Sgt David Rick of Falmouth, Ky., holds his son Christian, 4, as his wife Teresa holds their daughter Heather, 2, at the family briefing at the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Walnut Hills Saturday.
(Ernest Coleman photos)
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For the nearly 170 Marines of Communications Co., Headquarters Battalion, stationed in Walnut Hills, the hours they have left together with spouses, parents and children are dwindling to a precious few.

Saturday morning, they spent several of those hours crowded into the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center on Gilbert Avenue for a meeting at which loved ones left behind could ask questions and seek help on coping with the reality that, soon, their sons, daughters, husbands and wives, could be halfway around the world fighting a war that could last a long time.

"When we leave Cincinnati, I promise you this,'' said the company's commander, Maj. Antonio Capetillo, straining to be heard in the back reaches of the reserve center's assembly hall, which was packed with Marines clad in desert camouflage. Hundreds of children and adults anxious to hear every word listened. "I'm going to make sure I bring everybody back to you,'' the commander said.

The communications company, trained to set up battlefield communications systems under combat conditions, could leave for Camp Lejeune in North Carolina as early as Monday. Once there, they will receive deployment orders.

Even the company's officers don't know yet where they will ultimately end up, but they fully expect to be at or near the front of the increasingly likely war with Iraq.

[photo] Lance Cpl. Charles "Chris" Childers (left) talks to his father, Tech Sgt. Charles Curtis Childers, who returned Tuesday from active duty in Kuwait, and his sister Lisa Childers, all from Hebron, Ky.
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Saturday morning, the family members munched on doughnuts and drank coffee as they listened to a stream of speakers explain to them what services will be available to family members back home and what kind of communication they will be able to have with the young Marines once they are overseas.

All but about 10 members of the company are scheduled to ship out. Each of the Marines, who range in age from 19 to 51, have had at least a week to get their personal lives in order.

And each has painful goodbyes to make sometime very soon.

For Lance Cpl. Charles "Chris'' Childers of Hebron, Ky., a 20-year-old unmarried reservist, he will be leaving behind his mother, Mihwa, and a 16-year-old sister, Lisa, both of whom sat in the back of the assembly hall Saturday morning and listened to the speakers.

Out in the hall, Lance Cpl. Childers stood and talked quietly with his father, Charles Curtis Childers. The special irony of Lance Cpl. Childers' situation is that he just this past week was reunited with his father, a technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, who returned Tuesday after a five-month active duty stint in Kuwait.

"I get called back and Chris gets activated,'' said Sgt. Childers, wearing an Operation Southern Watch T-shirt he picked up in Kuwait while working in the U.S. effort to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

Sgt. Childers said he found out about his son's activation when he called him just before he flew out of Kuwait.

[photo] Marine Pfc. Jason Gray of Middletown holds his daughters Carrie, 6, and Casey, 4, during the briefing.
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"It's strange, but it happens sometimes,'' Sgt. Childers said. "That's the way it is when you are in the military.''

Marines like Lance Cpl. Childers will probably be able to communicate with their families back home via e-mail and telephone as long as they are at Camp Lejeune. If they ship out overseas, company officers say, communication could be infrequent, depending on what they are doing and how close to the action they are.

Sgt. Anthony Spriggs of Forest Park, a Marine reservist who served in the Persian Gulf War 12 years ago, warned the families that when they do talk to their Marines overseas, "you might find them different.''

"You don't get a lot of details on phone calls,'' Spriggs said. "Don't take that personally. There won't be a lot of emotion on phone calls. There will be a certain amount of personal detachment. These are Marines and they will be focused 100 percent on their jobs.''

Spriggs' wife, Denora, who will head a local support network for family members, attested to what her husband told the family members Saturday.

"I remember when Anthony was gone the last time, I would talk to him on the phone and then sit there on the floor crying,'' Mrs. Spriggs said. "It was like the Anthony Spriggs I knew was just gone, didn't exist. He wasn't my husband anymore; he was a Marine."

Spriggs said the oldest child, a 9-year-old daughter, noticed this week that he was wearing his Marine uniform every day. "She picked right up on that,'' he said. "She knew something was going on.''

The children, Mrs. Spriggs said, "know what their daddy does and they know he has to leave sometimes. But they know he still loves them.''


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