Sunday, July 6, 2003

Reserve, Guard families sacrifice

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - When Kelly Rowan married five years ago, she knew her husband was a veteran member of the Kentucky Army National Guard. She said she thought of the Guard as a sideline to his day job as an industrial chemist. She now knows different.

Michael Rowan shipped out Jan. 2. He could be gone at least another year, his wife said. She doesn't know where he is or what he's doing.

Rowan is among some 2,400 Kentucky Army Reservists and National Guardsmen - typically part-time soldiers - who have been mobilized and shipped out to support the global war on terrorism.

Kentucky National Guardsmen are overseeing terrorist prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, purifying water in Afghanistan and trying to maintain a fragile peace in Iraq.

Army reservists have been uprooted from their jobs and families to augment full-time forces at distant military bases.

The families left behind have had their lives changed. Many are making do on smaller military incomes, juggling child care and a second job to make ends meet. Still, they say they are encouraged by the signs of support for soldiers and their mission, even though they wonder how much longer the deployments will last.

Rowan, a sergeant with the 223rd Military Police Company, shipped out for Iraq, leaving behind his now 8-month-old daughter, Claudia.

Kelly Rowan, a 28-year-old Louisville legal secretary who expects to start law school in the fall, said the separation has not been easy. She said she doesn't want to go through an extended deployment again.

"It's horrible. There is no other way to describe it. Your partner and best friend and soul mate is gone, and now I live alone. I have friends and family, but you can't find someone who will fill that void in your life."

With her husband in Iraq, their extended family has helped with the couple's child while she holds down a job. Such family assistance also has meant that she hasn't needed support from the National Guard's family readiness group.

Those groups, made up of family members of those in the unit, help each other with things such as baby-sitting duty, potluck suppers, emotional support and more.

Terry Laster, whose husband, David, and son, Michael, have been on active duty with the Murray-based 438th Military Police Company of the Kentucky National Guard, heads the family readiness group for that unit.

She said that since the unit's 124 members were deployed in October for guard duty at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the families seem to have fared well.

As a group they've pitched in to help when needed. For example, when the homes of two members of the unit burned, the group's other members helped raise money to cover uninsured losses.

Laster is counting herself among the lucky military families this weekend. Both her husband and son came home on a two-week leave Wednesday.

"When I first saw him coming down that ramp at the airport," Laster said of her husband, "I thought I was dreaming. It doesn't feel real to have him here."

Willie McGill of Louisville said his son, Virgil, who works for Jefferson County Public Schools, was one of the few Army reservists activated in HQ Company of the Kentucky-based 100th Division.

"They found out he was trained as a combat photographer and called him up about six months ago," McGill said.

He said his son went to Fort Bragg but was not deployed to Iraq.

McGill said he is proud that his son is able to serve, but also glad he has not had to face the dangers in Iraq. But McGill, an Army veteran with combat experience, said he thinks it's unfair to continually call up so many reservists and guardsmen who must leave their jobs and families.

But Jodi Brooks, 28, of Hodgenville, said she is proud that her husband, Jeffrey, was able to realize his lifelong dream last year of joining the military.

Brooks said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, her husband felt guilty that he was not doing something to help the country, so she told him to sign up.

He enlisted with the Kentucky Army National Guard, and he asked to be put "with a unit that will go and do something," she said.

According to Brooks, her husband told his recruiter to "send me to Kuwait."

In January, he shipped out with the 223rd Military Police Company.

Brooks says she is worried about her husband's safety, but tunes out news reports.

Her husband, a private first class, phones home every five days for about 10 minutes.

In his civilian life, Brooks is a meter reader with Nolin Rural Electric Cooperative, and his wife works at a Hodgenville veterinary clinic.

Since he was deployed, Brooks said, her husband's pay has increased and they get a housing allowance.

But things still are challenging.

"I won't say it's not hard," she said.

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