A couple of rules for couples in Iraq
September 2, 2005
MOSUL, Iraq — The bad news: You’re going to Mosul, Iraq, for a year.
The good news: You can bring your spouse.
And now the conditions: separate rooms and hands-off for a year.
It may seem like the chance of a lifetime — deployment without the separation.
But most of the seven married couples deployed together to Iraq from the 94th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) and its attached unit, the 535th Engineer Company (Combat Support Equipment), are finding there isn’t much wedded bliss as they live more like neighbors than husband and wife.
Army regulation prohibits public displays of affection while in uniform, and the battalion’s policy for the deployment is no sexual activity, whether married or single.
None of the couples in Iraq had visions of living together in a quaint little house with a patch of lush grass and a white picket fence, but they also didn’t expect to be deployed together or living on the same base, often going days — or even months — without seeing one another.
“Sometimes we don’t get to see each other for days, and he lives right across the street,” said Staff Sgt. Chasity Belizaire. She and her husband, Staff Sgt. Joseph Belizaire, are in leadership positions in the 94th Engineers, and long work days prevent them from even having meals together on some days. “There is so much work, and our schedules are different most of the time.”
“We don’t get to see much of each other,” said Spc. Dawn Andreli, of the 535th Engineers, who was separated from her husband, Spc. Ivan Andreli, for four months because the two were working at separate remote locations. “One of us might be on a convoy or maybe out at a remote site. We are here together, but it’s like we’re not married.”
More than half of the couples have been married one year or less, and are spending their “honeymoons” in sunny Mosul.
Spcs. Melissa and Ryan Benson, both of the 94th Engineers, went home on leave three months ago to get married.
“We came back, and people are always asking me: ‘So, how’s married life?’ I don’t really know,” Melissa Benson said.
They can visit their spouse’s rooms from 6 to 10 p.m. on work days and noon to 10 p.m. on days off, and eating meals together is OK as long as their schedules allow it.
And that’s more than most married soldiers get. The majority of the battalion’s married soldiers had to leave their spouses and children behind.
There are some who resent that these couples are here together while most of the soldiers have to endure the separation.
“Some of the soldiers say things about it,” said Spc. Seth Dominique, of the 94th Engineers. Dominique was based out of Combat Outpost Rawah, a remote site near the Syrian border, for more than a month. “My wife [Spc. Sally Dominique] was back at Marez, and soldiers said things like: ‘Now you know what I’m going through.’”
A poll of about 20 soldiers on Forward Operating Base Marez showed that most of them are either indifferent about these couples being deployed together or happy for them.
“If they can have their spouses here, then good for them,” said Spc. Clifford Ehle, of the 94th Engineers. “I don’t think my wife and I could work together that closely. In a way, it’s worse for them, because they always know what their spouse is doing.”
The couples are well aware of that negative aspect of being deployed together.
“You know when the other one is going outside the gate, what they are doing and when they should be back,” said Ryan Benson. “If they aren’t back at the scheduled time, you’re biting your nails and worrying about what may have happened. Is it a flat tire, were they hit by [a roadside bomb]?”
But soldiers have to weigh all the negatives of a joint deployment against the obvious positive side of having their spouses with them.
“Some soldiers here have already been separated from their families for seven months,” said Sally Dominique, of the 94th Engineers. “They have missed births and their babies’ first steps. I know we’re lucky to be here together. There’s always going to be some kind of policy that affects you, and there will always be times that you worry. But we’re together. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Reporter Kent Harris contributed to this report.