Wives and mothers gather for support as soldiers wage battle

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 21, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; For the most part, this is where the war is hashed out on the home front &045; not in street protests with thousands of people, but in living rooms, with small groups of friends and family.

While war was being waged half a world away, three friends &045; Barbara Bruce, Alice Morrison and Martha Madison &045; huddled in Barbara’s living room to watch news of the conflict on television.

They didn’t agree on everything, but they empathized with and supported each other, while making it clear they also support the troops.

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And with good reason, since all three women have loved ones serving in the military in the Middle East.

Both Barbara’s husband, Sgt. Perry Bruce Sr., and Alice’s husband, Sgt. David Morrison, serve with the 386th Transportation Company out of Vicksburg. They were deployed in January and are now stationed in Kuwait.

Martha, who knows Alice through church, is the mother of Kelvin Alexander, a computer specialist who is stationed with the Air Force in Saudi Arabia. &uot;He’s 33,&uot; Martha said proudly. &uot;But he’s still my baby.&uot;

That is why Martha has been watching the news since Wednesday night &045; first in her own living room, then with Alice and Barbara close by.

&uot;Because I wonder what my baby’s doing,&uot; Martha said. &uot;He’s not on the front lines, but he’s still in danger, you know what I mean?&uot;

Keeping up with the news &045; even the fuzzy green images she can barely see are tanks rolling across the screen &045; is a way for her to stay connected to him.

&uot;He’s how I knew where my baby was,&uot; Martha said, pointing at CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer. &uot;He mentioned his (unit’s) name and where he was, and I said, ‘That’s the one he’s with.’ &uot;

Up all night

Alice admitted that she, too, had watched the news all night along with her teenage stepson, David Alexander.

&uot;Admitted,&uot; that is &045; because it’s something she is not supposed to be doing.

&uot;The last thing by husband said before he left was, ‘Don’t watch it every day and don’t read the paper every day, because more than likely, I won’t be there,’ &uot; Alice said.

But she couldn’t tear herself away Wednesday night, and on Thursday after work, she turned on the television just watch &uot;just to get the latest.&uot;

&uot;Then I said, ‘Well, that’s that, I’ll turn on something else.’ I turned it, and there it was again. And again,&uot; Alice said. &uot;Finally, I just left it on and went around the house doing whatever else I had to do.&uot;

Barbara shakes her head. On Wednesday, she notes, she couldn’t bring herself to watch television.

That included the president’s speech, since she doesn’t believe Bush’s administration has exhausted all its diplomatic options before going into war.

But on Thursday night, with friends and family by her side, she finally sat down on her living room couch and took it all in, taking a deep breath.

They watched the tanks’ shapes becoming clearer as another correspondent told of soldiers driving hours across the desert, sand blowing into their faces.

&uot;Oh, Lord,&uot; Alice said, looking over at Barbara. But they know that’s not where David and Perry are.

They know because they stay in contact with their husbands via e-mail and telephone. They e-mail scriptures &045; &uot;the joy of the Lord is my strength&uot; is a favorite &045; and the latest news.

Alice’s husband managed to get his hands on a satellite telephone he still has with him.

&uot;You’ve got to talk in code, though, because they’re not supposed to say anything&uot; about their mission or where they are, Alice said.

&uot;Sometimes you wonder if you’re getting what he’s talking about, or if he gets what you’re asking.&uot;

And if either Alice or Barbara get in touch with their husbands, they can ask about the other men in their unit.

Martha said her nervous moment came yesterday, when she didn’t get her daily call from her son.

Those calls have a special importance since Kelvin’s 5-year-old son is living with her while Kelvin is away.

&uot;He didn’t call yesterday. Then this morning I got an e-mail. He said they have a communication (blackout), so he won’t be able to get in touch as often. But the Lord is handling everything,&uot; Martha said confidently.

This elicited murmurs of approval from the other women. &uot;He (God) is here, there and everywhere,&uot; Barbara said. &uot;He’s watching out for them.&uot;

Reaction at home

A pause in the conversation was filled with new footage &045; not of tanks and explosions this time, but of crowds of protesters on the home front.

&uot;These are Americans&uot; that are fighting, Martha said. &uot;It’s too late for this.&uot;

Barbara disagrees. &uot;You’ve got to stand up for what you believe. They could have done more to stop this. Besides, I’m a Christian person &045; I don’t believe in fighting,&uot; she said.

&uot;I tell you one thing,&uot; Barbara added, waving a hand toward footage of protests in Chicago. &uot;If I was anywhere close to there, I’d be protesting, too.&uot;

&uot;That pulls attention away from where it should be &045; our troops,&uot; Alice interjected.

&uot;On September 11, they attacked us, and we couldn’t just sit down and take it,&uot; Martha countered.

&uot;But that was Bin Laden, and this is Sadaam Hussein. You haven’t heard Bin Laden’s name mentioned in a while,&uot; Barbara said.

&uot;Bush don’t have anyone over there. And if you’ve got this many people protesting, it can’t be all right,&uot; Barbara said, gesturing again at footage from Rome.

&uot;He (Saddam) is evil, and he needs to be stopped,&uot; Alice said, adding that she doesn’t necessary believe in the war solution either.

Pausing, Alice added, &uot;All know he (Bush) is entering it because of the oil wells.&uot;

They look at her sideways, then laugh at the joke. &uot;Oh, please,&uot; someone said.

&uot;Hey, I’ve got to have some laughter in all this,&uot; Alice said.

Laughter, and plenty of support. For Alice, that has meant getting to know Barbara a lot better.

&uot;I’d known her for quite a while,&uot; Alice said of Barbara, &uot;but I got to know her better on the trip to Georgia.&uot;

Support group

The 386th, which has four or five members from Natchez, went to drill in January. &uot;They went to drill on a Friday, came back home on a Sunday and got the call on Monday,&uot; Alice said.

&uot;The call,&uot; in this case, was a notice that they had been deployed.

&uot;Other units knew in October that they were going, but ours didn’t,&uot; Barbara said.

They were then sent to train in Georgia. In February, David and Perry called to ask them to fly out to see them, which they did.

On the way back home, Barbara and Alice got word that their husbands were being deployed to Kuwait. &uot;So I’m glad we got to see them,&uot; Alice said.

And they are also glad that they, the other women of the 386th &045; and other friends, like Martha, with loved ones in the military &045; have found each other in the process.

&uot;We talk every morning and night, two or three times a day,&uot; Barbara said. &uot;And we go out to eat together.&uot;

Why is that support so important? &uot;Because if you don’t have someone over there, you don’t know,&uot; Barbara said simply.

Alice doesn’t want to burden David with every detail and every emotion. So when she phones Barbara, &uot;I feel like, ‘Now I can really talk.’ &uot;

That brings murmurs of approval, too, and a pause. Is there anything the three women have left unsaid?

&uot;Yes,&uot; Barbara said. &uot;Say that we’re praying for our troops, that this is resolved in a quick and timely fashion, and that they come home soon.&uot;

That, it seems, is something these three can agree on.