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Waiting wears on families, friends.

Byline: JEFF WRIGHT The Register-Guard

Lately, University of Oregon freshman Kristin Smithey grabs a seat next to the window every time she goes to class. That's because her cell phone often doesn't get reception unless she's by a window - and she doesn't dare miss a call.

"I jump everytime it rings," she said. "I always think it's him."

That would be Michael Stout, her 20-year-old boyfriend who last month was among 130 Marine reservists who shipped out from Eugene to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where they now await orders that could send them to the Middle East.

The members of Company A of the 6th Engineering Support Battalion were called up as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, established by President Bush to fight terrorists. Their stint of duty is expected to be 12 months or less, though under extreme circumstances it could be extended a second year.

They arrived at Camp Pendleton on Jan. 24 and are expected to stay there two to four weeks before heading to their next, unknown destination, said Maj. Lance Pattock at the U.S. Marine Reserve Center in Eugene.

The company is trained to repair and build bridges, aircraft runways and other infrastructure. More than half the reservists are "combat engineers" who could reasonably expect to see duty in combat areas.

Camp Pendleton is the West Coast jumpoff point for thousands of soldiers who have streamed through during the current buildup for possible war. In fact, Company A's departure was delayed a week because a swamped Camp Pendleton was not ready to receive them, Pattock said.

Ashlee McCan of Springfield, who married reservist Robert McCan in December, said she's grateful for having that extra week with her new husband. But it didn't make her last goodbye any easier, or the days since go by any faster.

"I watch the news, and it actually helps, lets me know what's going on," she said. "I never read the paper or watched TV before."

It's early but McCan, 18, said so far she's encouraged by how she's handling her husband's absence. "I've actually been a little stronger than I thought I would be," she said. "I promised him when I left that I would be strong for him, and I don't want to let that promise go."

Communication between most of the reservists at Camp Pendleton and loved ones back home has been difficult, Pattock said, with limited e-mail access and a camp mailroom that's been closed down.

When one reservist's girlfriend called to ask why she hadn't yet heard from her boyfriend, Pattock explained the math: "They've got about 1,500 soldiers and maybe three pay phones in Camp Pendleton," he said.

But Smithey, 19, has been luckier; Stout has his own cell phone and has been able to call several times a week - though she knows that's not likely to continue once he leaves California.

Smithey said she always has known that long absences and distances are part of the package deal that comes with a military boyfriend. Still, it's been harder than she thought.

Before the call-up, "he was always the first person I talked to in the morning and the last person at night, and it's not like that anymore," she said.

She and Stout were high school friends in Rainier but didn't see their relationship blossom until later. He attended Oregon State University while she enrolled at the UO, where she plans to major in business before pursuing law school. He's considering a career in the military.

The two have talked about some of the big stuff - including marriage - but decided not to get hitched before the company's call-up. "We just wanted to do it when we're ready and not be rushed," she said.

They've already found areas to disagree. "I want two kids and he wants three," Smithey said. `He said, `How 'bout we start with a couple of dogs?' '

What the couple hasn't discussed much, she said, is global politics. Stout "knows that President Bush is his commander in chief and he does what his boss tells him."

Smithey feels vaguely guilty about her own priorities. "I guess it's bad, but I'm more worried about Michael than about President Bush and are we going to war, blah, blah, blah," she said. "I just want my boyfriend back."

At the reserve center, Pattock probably wishes he could change places with Stout or one of the other reservists. Pattock serves as the center's peacetime/wartime support team officer-in-charge. "That means I'm the stay-behind administrator," he said.

Is he glad?

"Put it this way," he said. "I've been in the Marines for almost 18 years - eight in active duty and 10 in reserve. I've been practicing a lot and not been in a game yet. It would be nice to be able to play in a game."

But Pattock recognizes that his role at the Eugene center - answering inquiries and providing updated information for families - is important. Part of his job is social director - he and some volunteers met Saturday to plan future get-togethers for the families of Company A.

Pattock said he's fine with his assignment, but hopes he's never needed to perform the job's most dreaded task: "I'd have to do any casualty calls," he said. "I'd personally go out to the families."

Got a home-front story to share while a loved one is abroad defending the country? Contact reporter Jeff Wright at 338-2366 or at jwright@guardnet.com

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University of Oregon student Kristin Smithey says goodbye to her boyfriend, Michael Stout, a Marine reservist.
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Title Annotation:Call-up: Reservists from Eugene are awaiting orders at Camp Pendleton, Calif.; General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 3, 2003
Words:925
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