While U.S. troops fight in Iraq, their families at home are waging another kind of battle: dealing with the absence of a loved one and hoping that he or she will return alive and well.
Sandey Greene runs a daycare program from her home at Fort Benning, a vast complex spanning several-thousand hectares along the Georgia-Alabama state line near the town of Columbus. Her husband, Army Specialist Quentin Greene, was sent to Kuwait earlier this year.
Mrs. Greene says she does not know exactly where her husband is at present, but believes he is somewhere in Iraq. She says she deeply misses her husband and worries constantly for his safety. "I think about my husband all the time. He is like my better half, and it is hard," she says. "I pray a lot, and I talk to my pastor, my family to try to ease some of the stress that I am going through."
Mrs. Greene says her heart sinks every time she hears reports of U.S. casualties in Iraq. "It could be my husband. A lot of soldiers went there [to Iraq], but not all will be coming back."
Sandey Greene says it has been more than a week since she heard from her husband, but that she is reassured by e-mails she receives from commanders about the status of his unit. She says she tries to keep busy at home, adding that, in her words, she might "go crazy" if she did not have the daycare business to distract her from her worries.
Elsewhere at Fort Benning, Miriam Otero pours over a letter she received from her husband, Master Sergeant. Rafael Otero, a combat veteran who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and is now in Iraq once again. Sgt. Otero, a native of Puerto Rico, has written the letter in Spanish, and Ms. Otero translates the missive for her 10-year-old daughter, Bianca.
Afterward, Bianca says the letter from her father is comforting. But her face darkens when asked about the war. "I am always afraid about the war" she says. "I am always afraid that something will happen to him, and that is the hardest thing for me."
Bianca says she especially misses going on bicycle rides with her dad. She says she eagerly awaits his return, and hopes that he will take her to Disney World.
Miriam Otero says, ever since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, anxiety has been her constant companion. "All the time. Everyday, it is that fear of the unknown. Will I get a call? It is really, really hard [to deal with]," she says.
Like many spouses of U.S. servicemen, Mrs. Otero has had to shoulder added burdens and responsibilities since her husband's departure. She speaks of loneliness, adding that she finds herself looking at pictures of her husband and even talking out loud and singing to him as if he were at home. "He is not here to talk to. I cannot release all my tensions, my frustration," she says. "I cannot be happy, but I am not letting my fears take over because I must keep my sanity."
Bianca seems confident that life will return to normal once her father comes home. But Miriam Otero is not so sure. She says her husband was quiet and uncommunicative for several months when he returned from the 1991 Gulf War, and that she is bracing for the possibility that he will return from the current conflict a changed man. "I am afraid of how he is going to feel, and how he might have changed emotionally. And, already in my head, I am planning how to approach him when he comes back," she says. "I cannot bombard him with questions, that is the first thing. [I will have to] leave him alone and let him open up on his own if he wants to open up."
Officials at Fort Benning say counseling will be made available to returning servicemen and their families. But for now, the focus is on the war itself and the immediate wellbeing of the troops.