It's not war games any more


December 23, 1990|By Carol Frey | Carol Frey,Carol Frey is regional affairs editor for The Sun.

There already had been a lot of bone-tired lonesome Saturday nights by the time my husband, the Army reservist, told me he was being sent to Saudi Arabia.

Ed had spent his two weeks of summer camp last July in Pensacola, Fla., playing a war game on the computer -- Iraq invades Kuwait. He had been back home with me and our 4-year-old daughter a week when we learned from the morning newspaper that Iraq and its million-man army really had invaded Kuwait. This was no game.

Two weeks later, the Army called him to work in the war room at the Pentagon for 20 days. Most of August, he would go to work at 6 p.m. and come home at 7 a.m. -- about the time our household wakes up. I didn't like this routine much, but I did get used to reading the munchkin a bedtime story and telephoning her daddy when it got quiet upstairs.

He'd tell me about generals swarming the place in Bermuda shorts on weekends trying to move thousands of troops to the Saudi desert before Iraq has a chance to overrun a reliable ally in pTC the Middle East. Just providing water for that many people in a place without rain is a nightmare, he explained.

Operation Desert Shield. The name gave me the creeps. It reminded me of the one the Army used for the three-week exercise Ed went to Egypt for in 1985, and it was that training that worried me the most. It made my husband a good candidate to be called up.

So even though my daughter and I missed Ed a lot last August, I thought he might just become indispensable to the Pentagon and escape a call to the desert.

After his 20 days were up, we struck out for the beaches of North Carolina to fly kites and build sand castles with a couple of grandparents along. It was planned to be a week far from the Persian Gulf worries.

What it actually was was a week of phone calls from Washington arranging for Ed to go back to work on active duty at the Pentagon until Jan. 16 and a week of watching Cable News Network's nightly special on the gulf crisis.

One night, I walked down to the beach at sundown, looked north and south to confirm the solitude I felt in the world and decided that this Pentagon deal was going to work out. Ed had been a full-time student before the invasion, and the Army job would allow him to make some money while remaining in school part time. And, I told myself, as long as he is working there, surely they will find somebody else to do whatever jobs needed doing in the desert. From here on out, I would no longer scan the news wires at work for gulf developments a dozen times a day. I would forget it.

We were doing fairly well on this track -- the 4-year-old had even learned to identify Saudi Arabia on the globe -- until Thanksgiving weekend, when Ed learned that his reserve unit would be called up to active duty.

"What's that mean?" I asked accusingly.

He predicted half of the people would work in Washington and half would go to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Two tense days passed, and we learned that a few people in his unit had been called to work in Washington. That was it.

Then on Dec. 1, when Ed told me over a romantic dinner out that he expected to go over sometime in January, I believed deep down that something would happen to prevent that.

Three days later, I was driving home listening to a radio news report about how Saddam Hussein was willing to back out of Kuwait if he could keep a couple of islands and an extra oil field. At last, a way out of this mess for everybody.

I walked in the front door and soon found out there was no way out for our family: Ed had been released from his job at the Pentagon and would leave for Saudi Arabia the following week. He could be there for six months. He held me for hours and tears oozed from my eyes every time I thought about the terrible consequences of his announcement.

He could get hurt.

We would be alone.

No, he told me, the Army would be sending him to the safest place over there -- the capital, where Moslem shrines would serve as a deterrent to bombing if nothing else would -- and we would be overrun with grandparents during December. After that, we could hire some nice person to come stay with us, watch our daughter while I work and help out with chores around the house.

Sounds fabulous, I thought, but how do we tell our little girl that her daddy would be on the other side of the Earth for Christmas. The next day, her nursery school teacher offered some advice based on years of experience handling little kids and living with her career-Army husband.

Just tell her the truth, Miss Jennifer said, and don't try to hide emotions. She will not understand the length of time involved.

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