Waiting anxiously for call to duty

Army: Tanya Donahue can't say goodbye enough to the folks at home she loves - and those who love her.

October 10, 2001|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

Inside the Jachman U.S. Army Reserve Center in Owings Mills, the Denny's breakfasts and Boston Market lunches are getting old. On-again, off-again leaves in the past few days have left members of the 443rd Military Police Company with the jitters. After three tearful goodbyes, each supposedly the last, some no longer return to their new wives but stay close in hotels; their hearts have been wrenched too many times.

Eight people were married here last week after local officials waived the usual waiting period. Today and tomorrow, between 100 and 150 reservists fly to Fort Sam Houston Army Base in San Antonio, under Operation Noble Eagle, to defend the homeland. At least that is what the company knows so far. One of 12 military police units trained to run prisoner-of-war and refugee camps, they could be deployed anywhere in the next two years.

Usually they have 30 days to get ready. This time they had eight. Now they wait. The bags, the guns, the masks, everything has been packed for days. It's a close-knit club, and many reservists are anxious to get started.

One is newcomer Tanya Donahue, 20, who finished basic training in June. Until now, family has meant her mother and grandmother. Monday morning, on what was to be her last day with her family, she walked out to her car to find a note taped to the driver's door: "I love you," it reads. "Mom."

She's waited before. Sitting behind a wall at a Missouri Army base, bugs swarming all over her, she didn't dare move or utter a sound; she was about to lead an ambush.

She's learned how to get a gas mask on in nine seconds. Gone through a gas chamber, taken off her mask in it, seen that it works. When the time comes to use it, she won't panic.

She's flushed out bad guys from buildings. Driven a Humvee. Learned her weaknesses and ways to overcome them, along with all manner of police duties. The 9 mm is her side arm. The M-16 rifle her backup. The words that echo through her mind recall a favorite drill sergeant: Hard times don't last. Hard people do.

"I'm very confident," she says.

A 1999 graduate of Dundalk High School, Donahue is a security officer for Johns Hopkins Hospital in civilian life. She's contemplating going into active duty, and the call-up will test her resolve. "I'm an adrenaline junkie," she says.

When a next-door neighbor who served in the Gulf War asked her, "Are you afraid?" she told him: "Not really. This is what I want to do, who I am. And I have the support to do what I do, my family."

The neighbor, for example, who has talked to her every day since Sept. 11, has become part of that family. In telling her of his own fears on a supply ship in the Gulf, she says, he "calmed me down."

Her best friend, high school classmate Sarah Griffin, has visited every day since Sept. 11, sometimes stopping in late at night or early in the morning. The words of Sarah's mother, Kathy, proved especially comforting: "We're praying for you."

Contemplating the future

Her biggest supporter, her mom, Linda, pops Tums like candy.

Mother and daughter have prepared. They have discussed joining the military since high school. Maybe since that speech Tanya wrote in eighth grade. Ms. Doolan said students could write about whatever they wanted, as long as they really believed in it. Tanya wrote about women on the frontlines. If they knew the job, were strong inside and out, and wanted to go, well then, women, too, were capable of fighting.

Her mother urged Tanya to "go for it," to follow her dreams.

In the past few days, when Tanya returned home for a few hours at the end of the day, they have gone out to dinner. "We've had our cries, our fears. We talked them out," says her mother. "I can see in her eyes she is worried, but she is still willing to go. She wants to go. Whatever happens, happens," she says.

Even in her worry, Linda Donahue resorts to humor.

"I hope and pray she is short enough that she can duck," she says of Tanya, who is 5 feet 5 inches. She adds, quickly, "She may be small, but she will take you down one way or another."

Tanya tries to find comfort

So far, her only concern is caring for Tanya's cat, Casper. Her daughter's leaving for two years hasn't hit her yet.

Except for 17 weeks of basic training, this will be Tanya's first time away from home, where she has lived her whole life with her mother and grandmother.

But it's not like she'll be alone, Tanya says.

Donahue's co-workers at Hopkins have promised to send her care packages and letters. She made sure the mother of her godchild will stay in touch. Already she's been sent pictures and a birthday card.

And in Texas she expects to be very busy. The Army makes you a better person, she says, and she is already thinking of ways to improve herself:

"I want to learn to line dance," she's told her civilian supervisors, some of whom are retired military.

"I want to meet a cowboy.

"I want to learn to speak Spanish.

"And I want to learn to play the guitar."

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