Families prepare for stress of deployment
November 4, 2008
Editor’s note: Like many other soldiers, Sgt. Christopher Smith is facing a third deployment to Iraq. Stripes plans to follow Smith to chronicle his time in the war zone. This is the second part of an occasional series.
Click here to read first installment.
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The hardest part is saying goodbye.
This month, 3,500 172nd Infantry Brigade soldiers will leave wives, husbands, children and friends in Germany to embark on a 12-month mission to Iraq.
Marion Smith, 26, a young mother preparing for a year without her husband, said the day the soldiers leave will be the hardest part of the deployment for those left behind.
Her husband, Sgt. Christopher Smith, 23, is getting ready for this third mission to Iraq. It will be the second time he’s deployed since the couple married in 2005. At the time, Christopher was already a veteran of his first Iraq tour, from 2003 to 2004, and Marion, a German, was an Air Berlin flight attendant.
"There is lots of crying (on the day the soldiers leave)," she said. "All these people getting on the buses and leaving and the kids asking for Daddy," she said.
The couple has two sons, Cameron, 3, and Cody, 2.
Marion has placed photographs of the boys’ father next to their beds so that his face will be the last thing they see each night while he’s gone.
"It is important for the kids to still see their dad," she said. "He missed the whole first year for the little one and (Cody) didn’t recognize him at all when he came home."
The last time Christopher Smith deployed, one of his soldiers was killed in action. The soldier was the Smiths’ neighbor, and Marion Smith recalled how she and the other spouses tried to help his widow.
But Marion Smith hasn’t attended any memorials for soldiers killed in action.
The fact that her husband has been in vehicles struck by roadside bombs many times, including an attack that wounded him the last time he deployed, means she’s well aware of the danger he’ll face.
News reports about casualties in Iraq are a source of anxiety, she said.
"But I keep thinking, ‘He’s in a tank and he’s safe. Those guys were in a Humvee.’ I wish everybody had a tank or there were just no attacks," she said.
Christopher Smith knows explosively formed penetrators employed by insurgents in Iraq these days can slice through a tank like it’s made of cardboard, but it’s not something he chooses to dwell on when he’s talking to his wife.
The pair expects to stay in touch daily over the phone and use webcams while he’s downrange.
"I’m expecting the time to pass by fast and as long as he’s coming home healthy, I’m good with everything," Marion Smith said.
The fact that her family is only a short drive away must be reassuring. Most 172nd spouses live far from their families back in the U.S.
Marion Smith plans to visit her parents, who live near Nuremberg, regularly. She’ll also have the support of her sister, whose husband, also a U.S. soldier, just got back to nearby Vilseck from Iraq where he served with the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.
For Christopher Smith, the last days in Germany are a time for simple pleasures such as family barbecues and playing with his kids — watching Cameron throw a ball and Cody zoom over the neighbor’s plants on his electric quad bike.
Last Friday, the family was out trick-or-treating with the children of other soldiers from his tank company. Christopher Smith decorated the trunk of his Jeep Cherokee, bought with the extra money he earned on his last deployment, with cobwebs and filled it with candy for the kids.
"The boys don’t understand [that their dad is going to Iraq]," Christopher Smith said. "I don’t think they realize what is going on. They were young on the last [deployment] as well. They know I’m gone for a while and then I’ll come back," he said.