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War tales from the home front

By PAUL DE LA GARZA
Published July 1, 2006


TAMPA - With her husband deployed in Iraq, Michelle Land was stunned one day last year when she saw a man in military fatigues park his car in front of her house.

She thought he was there to deliver bad news.

Turns out, he was picking up his son next door.

Land, 35, of St. Petersburg, and three other military wives met with newspaper reporters at MacDill Air Force Base on Friday to share stories from the home front. They spoke of their fears, their worries and their pride in having husbands who are helping to keep America safe.

Base commander Col. Margaret Woodward said she organized the luncheon because spouses of deployed forces rarely get to share their side. A few months ago Woodward organized a similar gathering with MacDill personnel who had served in the war zone.

Of the four wives who attended the luncheon, three are pregnant, including Land. They said they hoped their husbands will be with them during their deliveries.

Cheree Zeigler, 34, of Tampa, is not pregnant. But she and her husband, 1st Lt. Richard Zeigler, have two boys, 9 and 11. A military police officer, he has been deployed in Iraq for a year.

Zeigler said the boys stay up on current events and have taken their father's assignment in Iraq particularly hard.

Zeigler said the key is to stay busy. She's a volunteer coordinator at MacDill, and her boys play soccer, baseball and golf. They're also enrolled in Cub Scouts.

Zeigler also does small things to help the family cope. She keeps a pair of her husband's boots by the front door to remind everybody there's a man in the house.

To ease his worries, Zeigler said she assures her husband the family is okay.

Land said she, too, tries to stay positive. "When I get on the phone," she said, "I don't complain."

Sometimes it's not easy.

Alba Gonzalez, 24, said she got angry when her husband George, a medic, was deployed to Iraq in 2004.

"Why are they doing this to us?" she remembered thinking. "I don't want to worry."

One time, Gonzalez said, she was talking to her husband when suddenly she heard sirens in the background and he had to hang up. She did not hear from him for two days.

Gonzalez is pregnant with the couple's first child, a girl.

The women said to survive their husband's deployment, they do not read the newspaper or watch the news. Land said she has told friends and family not to share news about Iraq. Her husband's job is to explode improvised explosive devices.

"The last thing I want to hear is there has been an explosion and five soldiers are dead," she said. "Ignorance is bliss, is the motto I follow."

When a spouse deploys, the women said times passes normally.

When they're scheduled to return, however, time comes to a crawl, especially the last month.

The best part is when their husbands come home. They say they feel like teenagers all over again.

[Last modified June 30, 2006, 23:33:11]


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