Sunday, March 23, 2003

He provides aid and comfort


Back home, Marine helps Corps families through war

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Marine Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Spriggs, here with his wife, Denora Springs, spends his days at the Naval/Marine Reserve Center in Walnut Hills trying to ease the anxiety of families who have loved ones serving in the Gulf.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Spriggs, United States Marine Corps Reserves, is at his desk each day at the Naval/Marine Reserve Center on Gilbert Avenue.

His heart, though, is in the Iraqi desert.

That is where about 160 Marines of Communications Co., Headquarters Battalion, 4th Marine Division are today. They are split into small groups and scattered among the Marine divisions that have been making their way through Iraq, facing hostile fire and seeing at least two of their Marine brothers die in combat.

"They're out there somewhere, out with the grunt units,'' said Spriggs, who was in the Iraqi desert himself 12 years ago when the United States first took on the regime of Saddam Hussein.

This time, though, the Forest Park man is one of 10 Marines left behind to run the day-to-day operations of the reserve center, and, most important, to provide aid and comfort to the families of the 160 Marines.

TV mind games

These families only have to turn on their television sets to see their loved ones' war unfold in their own living rooms. The nearly non-stop television coverage, Spriggs said, is a technological wonder, but it increases the families' anxiety.

"I know it's playing mind games with our people,'' Spriggs said.

The gunnery sergeant spends a considerable amount of time fielding phone calls from distraught parents and anxious spouses who do not always know where their loved ones are.

Friday, he talked to a young wife with no children who was weeping at home as she watched the live television reports.

"She said, `Gunny, I'm not doing too good. I can't take it,' '' Spriggs said.

"I told her, `Don't sit there all the time watching this. Take a look at the headlines now and then. Stay busy. Don't obsess with this. We have to trust that he is in the Lord's hands and pray for them.' ''

Another call Spriggs took came from the father of a Marine - a man who was "indignant, even angry.''

" `Where's my son?,' he wanted to know. There wasn't much I could tell him.''

Grim duty

As Spriggs and the other Marines went about their business at the reserve center Friday afternoon, the American flag blowing on the flagpole outside was at half-staff. It was raised that way first to honor a recently deceased Marinecommandment, then left alone once the first reports of Marines being killed in Iraq came in.

For the Marines left behind, it was grim reminder of a task they may yet have to perform - donning their dress uniforms and knocking on the door of family members and telling them their Marine has died in battle.

Earlier this week, the Marines at the center went through a "casualty assistance class'' - training on how to deal with the deaths in combat of unit members.

Maj. Markus Hartmann, the ranking officer in the contingent left behind, would have to deliver the grim news. He would be accompanied by at least one other Marine, quite possibly Spriggs.

"We watched a film on this at the class and there were tears in everybody's eyes,'' Spriggs said. "I can't imagine anything worse. I'd rather be in combat than have to do that. All I can do is pray to God we never have to put that dress uniform on.''

In the meantime, the Marines at the reserve center work around the clock to try to help the families.

They plan monthly gatherings where Marine families can come to relax or ask questions. The first was a pot-luck dinner. In April, they plan an Easter gathering, complete with an egg hunt for children of the deployed Marines.

"Unless I get a volunteer, I guess I'm going to dress up and be the Easter Bunny,'' Spriggs said. "That's what happens when your wife is organizing the event.''

Outpouring of support

The reserve center, Spriggs said, has received an outpouring of public support for the Marines overseas. Local businesses have offered discounts and free services to the families of the deployed Marines.

That support means a lot, not only to the families, but to the Marines themselves, Spriggs said.

One of his happiest memories, he said, was of the flight back home after the first Persian Gulf War. His military plane flew into Bangor, Maine, where he and his fellow Marines were greeted by a sight he will never forget:

The streets of Bangor were lined with veterans of previous wars saluting the Gulf War Marines. That was followed by a massive, citywide party, where they were given food, mobbed by children seeking autographs "and treated like heroes.''

When the Marines of the communications company come home, Spriggs said, "I want them to feel what I felt. Appreciated.''

So his plans include a party for the returning Marines, "a serious throw-down.''

"When that bus pulls into the parking lot,'' he said, "I want a big crowd there to greet them, a huge celebration. They will have earned it.''

E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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