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A lonely year for families of soldiers.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

Waiting makes you strong and sad. It toughens you up and scares you silly. And it doesn't get easier as time goes on. These are the truths of Tricia Card, whose husband, Jeramy, went off to war in February 2003.

A year after the first explosions rocked Baghdad and thousands of Army vehicles rumbled across the sand berms separating Kuwait from Iraq, the 27-year-old Eugene middle school counselor is still waiting for her husband to come home.

"I don't think you can describe to somebody how lonely it is," said Card, who will spend the first anniversary of the war the way she spends most FridaysThe war started on March 20, which is Saturday - working with kids at Kelly Middle School during the day, visiting her parents in the evening, then going home to five cats and perhaps a phone call from Iraq.

Jeramy Card, a member of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, is one of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers from Oregon on active duty for Iraq - men and women who have served, are heading overseas right now or who have recently returned.

Hundreds of other soldiers from Oregon also are serving in Iraq from regular Army, Marine or other military branches, and the waiting game is no less hard for their families.

But what makes this conflict different from past American wars is that it represents the largest contingent from Oregon - and across the country - of National Guard and reserve soldiers called upon for open-ended active duty in war.

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, National Guard members usually responded to emergencies, said Rosemary Mariner, a research fellow at the University of Tennessee Center for the Study of War and Society.

Guard members fought fires, quelled riots, filled sandbags during flooding and otherwise served when the state or federal government called upon them.

Not since the Korean War, more than 50 years ago, have so many National Guard and reserve soldiers been called on for such an extended period, with 188,000 Guard members and reservists on active duty nationally.

"This is different. It's open-ended and nobody can say how long we're going to be doing it," Mariner said. The reservists work for the federal government. Guard members have both state and federal obligations.

There was little advance warning of who would be called up, as rumors of war built to a crescendo last year.

Tricia and Jeramy Card had four days' notice before he got on a plane for training in Colorado.

"I didn't have a whole lot of time to prepare my emotions," she said. When he was gone, they swept over her.

"I cried more in the first two months after he left than in any two months of my life," she said.

But she focused on her work, spent time with her family - dinner at her mother's house, exercise with her sisters - and learned to handle the chores by herself.

She learned that getting by was a day-by-day effort, sometimes a minute-by-minute affair. And she stopped watching the news.

"Your mind plays tricks on you, makes you worry more than you should," she said.

For other women, the news was more lifeline than source of worry.

Karalina Burton, who grew up in Sweet Home, found herself drawn to the news, even though her husband, Michael, was doing guard duty in Baghdad, part of the 1st Armored Division of the 3rd Brigade.

"I wanted to know what was going on," she said.

For this war, families half a world away from the fighting know more about the war than ever before, Mariner said. E-mails and cell phones connect soldiers and loved ones with an immediacy unknown even during the Persian Gulf War, she said.

That communication dispels rumors, eases fears and buoys soldiers and their families, she said.

It was the 3 a.m. phone calls that carried Eugene residents Diane and Lee Temple through the worst times when their son, Eric, a sergeant in the Army's 101 1st Airborne Division, found himself in the thick of the war.

"There would be a span of time of not hearing anything," Diane Temple said. "You would worry so much. Then the phone would ring at 3 in the morning and he would apologize."

But she was eager for the sound of his voice, no matter what the time of day. "He needed to talk and we needed to listen," she said.

The phone calls got Burton, 20, over the worst of the separation from her 21-year-old husband, who was careful not to tell her more than he thought she could handle.

"He told me he's had a couple of close calls. He said: `You must be praying for me,' ' she said.

And she does, she said, have quiet little conversations in her head with God, asking that he'll keep an eye on Michael.

"Not having him here to talk to all the time, that's been the hardest thing," she said.

The worst time for Card was the five months Jeramy was actually in Iraq, working with military police checking the supply routes for explosive devices.

"I was a nervous wreck," she said. "even though he didn't tell me a whole lot about it during that time."

Both Card and Burton had a respite from the fear and loneliness when their husbands came home on leave.

By pure luck, one night during Burton's two weeks back in Oregon in November, his son Bradley was born.

Card had two weeks with her husband in December, which is when she finally learned just how dicey his days in Iraq had been. "It was constant gunfire and mortar rounds day and night. He was sleeping in his uniform and flak vest in 110 degrees. I can't even imagine his anxiety," she said.

Card got past her own anxiety to discover reservoirs of strength she didn't know she had.

Tired of living in a noisy duplex, she went out shopping for a house last June, found one, closed on it, and moved in.

To help create a support system, she reached out to other National Guard wives and organized activities: monthly pizza dates, a visit to a ceramics studio.

"I've learned I'm strong," she said. And despite the loneliness, she sees some good in the painful separation. It has brought the couple closer, she said.

"The only thing we've had to hold onto is communication," she said. They plan to save the letters, cards and e-mails, an acknowledgement and a reminder not to take each other for granted.

For many families, the waiting is winding down. Burton, with help from her mother, is driving to Kansas, where Michael is stationed and expected back this weekend.

Jeramy returns late this month or in early April, Card said.

She empathizes with the families whose husbands, wives and loved ones have recently deployed.

She has offered encouraging words, but she knows what they face.

"When he left I thought, this is going to get easier. It hasn't, it's actually gotten harder," she said.

OREGON NATIONAL GUARD

On the anniversary of the war, some guard units have returned and some are preparing to deploy, serving either in Iraq or in the United States as part of homeland security efforts. Here's a snapshot of recent departures and returns.

In Iraq now: 49 members of the 82nd Support Battalion, based in Lake Oswego

In Kuwait or Saudi Arabia: 405 members of the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, returning within the week, based in Forest Grove

At Fort Lewis, Wash.: 455 of the 1249th Engineering Battalion, returning this month, based in Salem

Just home from Iraq: 136 members of 52nd Engineering Battalion, based in Albany

Headed to Iraq: 705 members of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, sometime this month, from Cottage Grove

Casualties: The Oregon National Guard has lost one member in a vehicle rollover accident and had three soldiers injured in combat since the war began

CAPTION(S):

Tricia Card holds a gift from her husband, Jeramy, who is due to return from Iraq soon.
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Title Annotation:Family
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 19, 2004
Words:1345
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