By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
BLUE ASH - For the two dozen parents and spouses of military personnel serving overseas who held their monthly meeting Wednesday night in Blue Ash, the war news from Iraq was encouraging, but not nearly enough to allay their fears and anxiety.
That will come only when they see their sons and daughters, their husbands and wives, back home again, safe and sound.
"It's really difficult to watch sometimes," said Leslie Berk-Dutton of Morrow of the TV coverage of the war in Iraq.
It is difficult because as the Morrow woman sat in the conference room at Jewish Family Service in Blue Ash for the Military Support Group's monthly meeting, her daughter, U.S. Army Specialist Tracie Lyn Bailey, was in or near Baghdad, part of a Patriot missile battery from Fort Bliss, Texas.
"The last time I talked to her, she said she was fine, even a little bored," Berk-Dutton said, drawing a little laughter and knowing nods from the others.
She said her daughter knew the female soldiers from Fort Bliss who were taken prisoner early in the war, including Pvt. Jessica Lynch, who was freed by U.S. Special Forces last week.
"Somebody said to me, 'Aren't you glad it wasn't your daughter who was captured?,' " Berk-Dutton said. "I said, yes, but as far as I am concerned, they are all my children over there."
Everyone around the table with Berk-Dutton Wednesday night has a loved one serving in the military, most of them overseas and some of them in harm's way.
The group was started more than a year ago by Deborah Eckert, a social worker at Jewish Family Service, who was having a difficult time dealing with the fact that her son, Petty Officer Chad Adler, was serving in the Persian Gulf.
Wednesday night, members of the group talked among themselves about the events of Wednesday, but the focus of the meeting was one of celebration - Greg and Teri Ludwig of North Bend, two of the most active members of the group, brought their son, Seaman Steve Ludwig, who serves on board the destroyer USS Cushing in Japan and is home on leave until next week.
"Steve, everybody here feels like they know you, because all we've heard for weeks from your mother is that you were coming home,'' said Donna Plaskon of Kings Mills, whose own son, Aaron Plaskon, is an 18-year-old seaman on board the USS Mitscher in the Persian Gulf.
Steve Ludwig told the group of his experiences on board the USS Cushing and, with some prodding, explained how he earned the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Ribbon. When the USS Cushing was in the Persian Gulf, a Navy helicopter crashed on the deck and the young seaman from North Bend helped put out the fire and rescue the seven crew members after the helicopter flipped into the ocean.
He also thanked the people in the group his parents belong to for their support.
"For people serving overseas,'' he said. "people like you, people who support us and what we are doing, give us the strength to go on. Thank you."
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