Saturday, June 14, 2003

With a soldier in Iraq, Father's Day will be quiet

By Reid Forgrave
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Arielle Haynes hugs a photo of her father, Spc. Gary Haynes, stationed in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division.
(Craig Ruttle photos)
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WILLIAMSBURG - It was Mother's Day, and 22-year-old Loretta Haynes was talking with her husband for the first time in a month.

Spc. Gary Haynes, 23, of Mount Orab, had been sent to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division on Feb. 26 - their third wedding anniversary.

Surrounded by her family, Loretta was telling Gary about the newest achievements of their nearly 1-year-old daughter, Arielle. The toddler scampered to the phone and pressed the speakerphone button.

Hearing her father's voice, Arielle's face lit up: "Hi, Daaaddyyy!"

"Hi, Aye-yell!" Daddy said, using her nickname.

Then he began to cry.

Arielle kissed the speakerphone.

The whole family began to cry.

Now this young family from Clermont County plans a quiet Father's Day, with dinner at Loretta's father's home, while they wait for Arielle's dad to return. Like scores of other military families, they spend the holidays apart. And like other military families, there are struggles.

[IMAGE] An early birthday party was held last week for Arielle and Loretta in Withamsville.
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A young mother worries about her husband at war but continues with life - attending night school, raising a child, moving into a new house.

A young soldier is eager to get home, heartbroken over missing the first year of fatherhood, fearing his first daughter will forget him.

And a little girl with gold stud earrings and tufts of blond hair turns 1 this Tuesday, always answering the phone hoping Daddy's on the line. She's learning to walk and talk and hunt Easter eggs and play with toys, and it's all recorded on videotape so Gary can see his daughter grow up.

"It all happens for a reason," Loretta Haynes said of the difficulties of raising a child while the father's at war. "I just don't know what the reason is right now."

Gary Haynes was supposed to finish his four years of military service in September and become a civilian again, but the Army extended the stay of the helipad construction worker until at least December.

Not that Loretta doesn't have help on the home front. She's living with her parents just outside of downtown Williamsburg. Her parents and Gary's parents split the baby-sitting duties while Loretta's at school four nights a week at the Institute of Medical and Dental Technology studying to be a medical assistant. Loretta keeps busy with school and the baby so she won't dwell on missing her husband. Gary's parents watch Arielle one weekend night a week so Loretta can have time with friends, mostly young mothers. And the home she's about to move into in Mount Orab is just down the street from, and owned by, Gary's parents. They're letting her rent the house until Gary gets home and they can buy it.

But that's not to say life's a cinch now for Loretta.

"Gary gets so sad that he's not experiencing all this," Loretta said. "And he's terrified she's going to forget him. I'm just hoping he comes home now. I miss his company, and I miss seeing him with Arielle."

The outgoing mom with blond hair and hazel eyes is doing all she can to keep Gary in his daughter's - and her own - mind.

Every night, Arielle kisses her father's Army photograph - he is stern jawed, clad in his dress blues and surrounded by the Stars and Stripes - and says, "Ni-night, Daddy." Sometimes she'll take the photograph and run around the house.

Photographs of Gary are scattered throughout the house. "Arielle can't walk past anything in the house without passing a picture of her daddy," said Loretta's mother, Sandy Davis.

Loretta made a book of pictures of Gary, and before he left for Iraq, Gary made a videotape for his daughter. On it, he talks to her and sings "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Happy Birthday."

All of her toddler milestones are recorded on videotape - her new words, like "doggy" or "Nana" or her aunt's name "Kalisha"; her first steps; her first birthday party with a huge cake; her boisterous laughs and her newly sprouted teeth. Outside Loretta's parents' home in Williamsburg, five American flags, a sign proclaiming "United We Stand" and a huge yellow ribbon all exude patriotism and support for their favorite soldier in the 101st Airborne, 887th Company of Engineers, 4th platoon, 2nd squad. Loretta's blue Saturn in the driveway, with a yellow ribbon tied to the antenna and a "United States Army" decal on the window, says the same.

Gary joined the Army because he wanted help to go to school, and he did not imagine then that he'd be sent to war.

After Sept. 11, the couple decided to have a baby. Gary thought he might be deployed, his wife said, and he told her, "If I don't come back home, I want to leave something behind."

Now Loretta waits for his return so they can raise Arielle together.

"But until I see some papers or his face to prove he's home, I won't get my hopes up," Loretta said.


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