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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — According to Murphy’s Law, if anything can go wrong, it will.

The spouses of the 14th Fighter Squadron know this already.

In the last week or so, they’ve dealt with two flat tires, overflowing washing machines and the death of a parent.

The 47 squadron spouses are a tight-knit group, relying heavily on each other to get through life’s hard knocks while their husbands fly combat sorties in Iraq for four months.

Through e-mail and phone calls, they’re keeping tabs on each other, and they’re reminding all spouses — those in the 14th as well as the other deployed squadrons across base — to reach out if they need help.

“You do have to put yourself out there,” said Lori Toplikar, wife of 14th Fighter Squadron commander Lt. Col. Chuck Toplikar, “because I’m not at your house at 2 o’clock in the morning when that baby won’t go to sleep. You have to really reach out and say I do need your help.”

Each squadron has at least one Readiness Assistance Volunteer (“RAV” for short) who is that “go-to” person when times get tough.

“My job, if I don’t know the answer to something, is to make contact with somebody who does,” said Ellen Smith, one of three 14th Fighter Squadron RAVs.

RAVs are supposed to regularly contact, via e-mail or telephone, their unit’s spouses, both of the officer and enlisted ranks. But at a recent town hall meeting for family members of deployed airmen, some spouses said they hadn’t heard from their RAV or didn’t know who their RAV was.

“Somebody dropped the ball, because you have to know who they (RAVs) are,” Toplikar said, adding she sends out newsletters every week so spouses know who she is.

Smith said she’s been able to contact all the squadron spouses.

“It has to work both ways, too,” she said. “The RAVs are definitely there for whatever you need, but you need to let the RAV know if you have a problem.”

Spouses also can call their husband’s first sergeant — or “first shirt.”

“Between the RAVs and the shirts, they are the ones that pretty much handle everything,” Toplikar said.

But the spouses also jump in to help: “One of our squadron members, she went into labor while her husband was on duty — and not in this country,” Smith said. “We had four women there with her the entire time.”

Many of the 14th Fighter Squadron spouses have gone back to the States, Toplikar said. Those remaining at Misawa get together once a week or several times a month for lunch, dinner at each other’s homes, play groups and outings such as ski trips.

The 13th Fighter Squadron, meanwhile, has adopted the 14th spouses.

“I got in my box today a little thing from my secret pal in the 13th, and let me tell you it made my day,” said Siobhan Kline, 35, wife of Maj. Doug Kline, who is the 14th’s assistant director of operations.

For most of the 14th spouses, this is the first time their husband has deployed for combat — and this is the maiden deployment for some.

“You jump at a phone call in the middle of the night, even though you know that’s not how you would actually get told if something bad was to happen,” said Smith, 26, who’s married to her high school sweetheart, pilot Capt. James Smith.

But they also know things could be much harder.

“We remind ourselves and some of the younger wives that some of these guys have been over there for a year,” said Toplikar, 38, a mother of four. “I don’t complain about four months. It’s not fun, but we have absolutely nothing to complain about.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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