An all-too-brief reunion

An Army couple returns from Iraq to their kids, but after three weeks may deploy again.

By JODIE TILLMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2007

Jacob grasps a water bottle, his hands opening and closing like a little man's. Ilyssia laughs, flashing her tiny new teeth.

Simple things, for sure, but immediately noticed by parents gone for months fighting a war.

Chris and Amber Scott, both Army sergeants, left their two children -- 3-year-old Jacob and 6-month-old Ilyssia -- with relatives when they were deployed to Iraq. Chris went less than a week before Ilyssia was born. Amber left about three months later.

On Tuesday, the Scotts flew home together to Tampa for a nearly three-week break. Amber's mother, Debra Wiley, keeps the children at her home in Lealman.

Chris, 23, met his daughter for the first time at Tampa International Airport, and even hours later, words didn't come easily.

"I mean, I don't know what to say," he said, touching her tiny feet and staring into eyes the same blue color as his.

Amber, 24, looked for what was new as she fed the baby a bottle.

"Is she always this squirmy when she eats?" Amber asked her sister, Katherine Wiley.

Not a lot of parents could do what the Scotts have done. But when it comes to so-called "dual military couples," the Army doesn't grant special exceptions. If you're called up, you go, though the military requires parents to file a plan outlining how the children will be cared for.

Amber could have spent four months on maternity leave but opted to leave a few weeks early. "I had my husband over there, and it was getting harder and harder to leave," she said. Leaving sooner was like "pulling the Band-Aid off quicker."

No question, they say, leaving their young children for such a long time is hard. They see the children in photographs, hear their voices in phone calls with 4-second delays. None of it seems enough. But what helps, they say, is that they've got deep reasons for making such a sacrifice.

Amber enlisted shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She was in her freshman year at the University of South Florida and working a midnight shift at a convenience store when she realized she felt like she was running in place. She thought joining the military was the way to give back.

"You've got to be doing it for your country," she said. "It can't just be for the benefits. You've got to have something more you're looking for."

The Scotts' is a union founded in, and defined by, the military. They met nearly five years ago at basic training in Missouri. Later came the proposal, which by Chris' estimation, wasn't anything fancy.

"I just told her I wanted to marry her," he said.

Part of the 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart in Georgia, the couple ended up together on a military base about 35 miles south of Baghdad. They hold similar duties in small arms repairs and share a room with two twin beds and wall lockers.

Neither one of them has had any close calls. Sometimes on missions outside the base Iraqi children rush the caravan. That's when Amber Scott, the soldier, feels most like a mother. Part of her wants to throw them food. Part of her understands why the military, for security reasons, doesn't want people to get too close to their vehicles.

"I don't want them to get so close that they get run over," she said.

The couple has about a year left on their current deployment. When they come home, they know it may not be for good. "Hopefully not too many more times," said Amber Scott.

For now, they have more immediate plans. They're going to shop for Christmas toys, take a trip to the zoo or Busch Gardens. And Ilyssia has been rocking a lot more lately. Maybe, they say, they'll see her crawling for the first time.

Before they leave again.

Times photographer Melissa Lyttle contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 992-8267.