N.C. city edgy as deployment nears

Army and Air Force units at Fayetteville installations receive orders to prepare

Terrorism Strikes America

The Response

September 24, 2001|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - You don't need a military public affairs officer to tell you something's going on here.

You can see it at the malls, where parking lots are less than a quarter full on a normally busy Saturday afternoon, and where there are few couples because one spouse is on alert; in restaurants, where lunch meetings are canceled because the military people can't get there; in churches where congregants are starting support groups for military families and the liturgies are rearranged to acknowledge the dangers to the tens of thousands of Army and Air Force personnel in the community.

Units of the Army's Special Operations Command stationed at Fort Bragg and of the Air Force at adjoining Pope Air Force Base received deployment orders last week in response to the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 in New York and Washington. More are expected to receive orders in the next few weeks. And while it does not appear anyone has left town yet, the anxiety among many is palpable.

"When they go, they'll leave a void because they've given strength to us as a parish community," Mary MacShields said after a service yesterday at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. "I saw two of our military families this morning, and I wonder if we'll see them next week."

The thread of 41,000 active-duty military personnel and their families stationed here is inextricably woven through the fabric of everyday life in Fayetteville and surrounding communities.

A local economist estimates that the two posts, on 161,000 acres of sand hills and scrub pines at the edge of town, pump more than $4 billion a year into the area's economy. Servicemen and women volunteer at schools, recreation centers and churches. Often, spouses teach in local schools or work in local hospitals.

"Just about every woman in my class is married to a serviceman," said Dee Reeves, a nursing student at Fayetteville University. "And all they can talk about is whether their husbands are going to be deployed."

The community is "just laced with military," said Don Wallace, a real estate agent who figures that 80 percent of his business comes from families stationed at Pope and Bragg.

At Snyder Memorial Baptist Church, the Rev. David Crocker used the occasion of a baby dedication yesterday to note that even in the midst of "death and destruction there is new life," then told his congregation that they "would do what our president has asked us to do and get on with our lives."

The baby, Logan J. Martin, is the son of Al and Hillary Martin, a Fort Bragg military family who will need the prayers and support of the congregation, Crocker said. And during his pastoral prayer, he acknowledged "a higher degree of apprehension" in his community than others where the military is not so prevalent, and asked for protection for "the service men and women at Fort Bragg and Pope Air Base."

The Rev. Raymond F. Brown, rector at Holy Trinity, discarded the standard prayers of the people in the Episcopal liturgy yesterday for prayers for "pilots, crews and passengers of the hijacked planes," for rescue workers and survivors and for "the members of the armed forces and their leaders, especially those of this community, as they stand ready to defend freedom."

It was the second Sunday for that set of prayers, he said, but he isn't sure how much longer to use them.

"We're trying to figure out what to do," Brown said. "We don't want to dwell on this every Sunday, but on the other hand, we have to have some acknowledgment."

While residents here are worried about their friends, neighbors and their children's youth league coaches, they also are worried about their businesses.

"The town just stopped" when 32,000 troops were deployed to the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War, said Wallace, the real estate agent. "You take that many people out of this community, that's doing something."

And it's not just the troops sent halfway around the world, but also their spouses and children, who often return to their parents' homes rather than stay in an unfamiliar place where they have few friends, said Wallace, who was stationed here as an Army officer and stayed after he retired in 1985.

It's difficult not to run into retired military officers here. Wallace works for All American Real Estate, which is owned by Bud Dowdy, another retired Army officer. About a block away on Reilly Road, Tom LaMonds, an 18-year Army veteran, sells used cars from a lot owned by Joe Yeargo, another retired Army officer.

Chuck Wilsey, a retired Green Beret major, runs a locksmith company that does business with Wallace and Yeargo.

"What I'm afraid of, I know what's coming," said Wilsey, who estimated that 20 percent of the local mom-and-pop operations went under during the Gulf War. "It may take us tightening our belts a while to get through this."

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