Military Families: A Time of Sacrifice, Strength WAR IN THE GULF

March 10, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac

For Jane Efinger-Hayden, the war started on Aug. 7 when the telephone beside her bed rang. It was 2 in the morning. By 2:30, her soldier-husband was gone.

That's the way Operation Desert Shield started for most military families: a telephone call, notification of a military alert and, in most cases, a quick goodbye.

In the seven months that Sgt. 1st Class Danny Hayden has been gone from his home near Fort Stewart, Ga., he has missed Mrs. Hayden's 32nd birthday, his 40th, their first anniversary and his only brother's wedding.

For many wartime spouses, this was a private war of missed moments.

The Persian Gulf war, fought with its all-volunteer military, managed to focus unprecedented attention on military families. For them, it was a time of sacrifice and strength.

Since the Vietnam years, when military wives were left to fend for themselves, the armed services have incorporated family support systems into their framework. Too, the unprecedented deployment to the Persian Gulf of single parents and couples with children raised family issues never before confronted by the military.

According to the Pentagon, 16,337 single parents, most of them men, were deployed to the gulf, as well as 1,231 military couples with children.

At home, particularly in military communities, families drew together. In Hinesville, Ga., for instance, which was virtually emptied of men after neighboring Fort Stewart dispatched 14,000 troops, it was the women who refereed Little League and soccer. It was women who coached expectant mothers through labor. It was women who lined up at grocery stores, banks and gas stations.

Across the nation, military family assistance centers offered how-to workshops on automobile maintenance, financial management, single parenting and self-defense. In dozens of mostly rural communities, where 215,000 National Guardsmen and reservists were called to service, residents pulled duty for their absent neighbors.

For some, the war brought financial hard times. In most cases, members of the community were there to lean on. Service groups organized food banks for the needy and developed referral lists of plumbers, electricians and mechanics who were there to help only for the asking.

Everywhere -- on campuses, in churches, in homes and on military installations -- there were emotional support groups: Operation Prayer Shield, Operation Family Shield, Desert Storm Family Ties.

Many families met informally, reading each other the coveted letters from their soldier kin. Privately, they watched TV newscasts late into the night, hoping to catch a glimpse of absent loved ones or catch word of their whereabouts. Always, there was a hunger for information: Where was he? Was he OK? And, most of all: When was he coming home?

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