Military Update: 172nd Stryker BCT wives, for better or for worse
Stars and Stripes August 18, 2006
EDITOR’S NOTE:A correction to this story was issued Aug. 20, 2006.
By July 26, Jennifer Flower had resigned from her civilian job at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. With her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Brian Flower, expected home within days after a tough year in Mosul, Iraq, Jennifer planned to welcome him home and then to pack for reassignment to Fort Knox, Ky.
That morning, however, Jennifer heard a news report that shocked her. The 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Brian’s unit, might see its yearlong combat tour extended for up to 120 days.
Army Gen. George W. Casey, commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, ordered the 4,000-member brigade to Baghdad to help stop the violence between Sunnis and Shiites. In July alone, more than 1,800 Baghdad residents were killed, raising fears of a broader civil war if attacks continue.
“I called friends to see if they had heard the same rumors. Then we all just waited to get the official word,” said Jennifer. It came that evening.
In a video teleconference with the brigade’s Family Readiness Group — spouse volunteers ready to pass along information and provide support to other families — Col. Michael Shields, brigade commander, confirmed the disappointing news.
“I was very upset. Angry. I was sad,” said Jennifer. “It was literally heartbreaking. To spend 12 months [apart] and to be within days of having your spouse back home, to find out that was going to be ripped away … was crushing.”
That was three weeks ago. Families say they are bouncing back. They have returned to work, altered travel and vacation plans, arranged for ticket refunds and unpacked boxes. Some have taken their children on to new assignments, including to Europe, so they can settle in before school starts. Other children are surprised to be returning to Fairbanks schools.
“Just like anything else in the military, stuff happens unexpected. It is what it is. So you pick yourself up and you carry on,” Jennifer said.
Spouses who are counseling spouses, through the readiness group, said most families have gotten over the shock. Soldiers and families are focusing on their new challenges. One is to ship back a lot of personal gear that soldiers already sent home. Also returning to Iraq will be 300 soldiers who had been sent home early to prepare for the full brigade’s return.
Tricia Rambin, wife of the brigade’s operations officer, Lt. Col. Mitchell Rambin, said her first concern on hearing of the extension was to be sure her sons, Matthew and William, got the information first from her not the media.
Eleven-year-old Matthew “cried for a few minutes, then pulled himself together and said, ‘Well, that’s OK. That’s my dad’s job,’” she said. “My other son is taking it a little differently. He’s 10 and can only absorb so much at one time. Every day there has been a new question.”
The Rambin family immediately sent an e-mail to her husband “to let him know that we were OK,” Tricia said. “That we actually felt bad for him that he wasn’t coming home to us. And that we were doing fine. He needed to get back to work and not worry about us.”
Courtney Bedoya, wife of Capt. Joey Bedoya, a transportation officer with the brigade’s support battalion, said her husband was expected home in just 10 days when she learned of the extension.
“I was disappointed, of course. But it’s part of what I married into,” Courtney said.
Maj. Kirk Gohlke, spokesman for U.S. Army Alaska, said that in Baghdad the brigade will “assist the Iraqi security force with the sectarian violence … It’s the most critical mission over there right now.”
The 172nd was chosen, he said, “because it has proven itself in combat [and] is the most experienced brigade over there.”
Nineteen brigade soldiers have died in Iraq. More than 300 have been wounded. In Mosul, the focus was on training Iraqi soldiers, border patrolmen and police. The Baghdad mission could be more dangerous, working with Iraqi units to control deadly militias and insurgents.
In phone conversations and e-mails with her husband, said Tricia Rambin, the focus is never on the war or its dangers. It’s on family and friends, vacation plans, and the activities of their children.
“Calling home or e-mailing home is a chance for my husband not to be where he is. So we don’t dwell on that,” she said.
A soldiers’ morale, Courtney added, often “is family fueled. If they know their family is being taken care of at home, if they know we are taking care of what we need to take care of, they can focus on their mission.”
“In some respects they are their own family,” added Tricia. “They look to each other for support. Those concerned about the next 120 days are being bolstered and brought up by their soldiers. They are not sitting around. They are busy.”
Spouses want to be busy, too. Some already had sent their children to live with relatives so spouses could pack up households for their next moves. Welcome home signs have been taken down, the children are returning and a many newly-packed boxers have been unpacked.
Some spouses with permanent change-of-station orders are moving anyway, having been assured that their soldiers will be assigned to the new duty stations when they return.
The Army sent a team of family support experts to Fairbanks to help U.S. Army Alaska get families whatever help they need. The support has been terrific, said the spouses. Indeed, it has been almost overwhelming.
“To be honest,” said Tricia, “a lot of families just want to get on with being a family. We want to get back in school. We want to get on with it. We don’t see [the extra months in Iraq] as a media sensation. We just see it as the card we were dealt and we’ll go on.”
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