Call to duty touches Hollifield Station staff

March 10, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SUSAN LaCount, a speech language pathologist at Hollifield Station Elementary School, has been at Fort Dix, N.J., since January, waiting to be deployed to the Middle East.

LaCount, a major in the Maryland Army National Guard, will serve for up to two years. She has been a reservist for 20 years, but this is her first call to active duty, said her husband, Peter.

He said she is attached to a medical logistics unit, which ensures medical supplies go to where they are needed.

Susan LaCount leaves a lot behind. She and her husband have a daughter, Grace, 2, and a new home in Catonsville. For the past six or eight months, as pressure for war with Iraq has increased, they had been anticipating the call, Peter LaCount said.

When it came, Susan LaCount was told she had one week to pack up and ship out. "It was not a surprise," her husband said.

But it was certainly bad timing.

The LaCounts were in the process of selling their home in Canton and moving to Catonsville. Peter LaCount had to get power of attorney to finish the transactions without his wife.

Dealing with her job was easier. Glenn Heisey, principal of Hollifield Station, said certified speech language pathologist Denise Steinberg will be with the school until LaCount returns.

The school also had to find someone to take LaCount's place as the team leader for special education. "Susan's been with me since we opened" in 1997, he said. (Before that, she was at Thunder Hill Elementary School in Columbia.)

In a recent note in Keepin' Track, the school's weekly newsletter, Heisey asked for information about other Hollifield Station families that would be involved in any military action. He said several parents responded that they wanted to show their support for those who are serving, as well as for their families.

Another Hollifield teacher, Lisa Hairston-Jones, has been touched by the impending war in Iraq because her husband, Winston Jones, has been called to active duty with the Navy. Their two daughters attend Hollifield Station.

The school hopes to put together a display of "Hollifield patriots" in the front hallway with e-mail accounts, pictures and letters, but Heisey said he is waiting to see if that would be appropriate.

"Because [the LaCounts] don't know the nature of what their assignments will actually be - or at least she can't tell me at this point - she didn't want to get the kids' hopes up," he said.

All Peter LaCount can say about his wife's mission is that she is waiting to be deployed.

"She really doesn't have much of an idea yet" what she will be doing, he said.

It's not clear whether she will be able to call or e-mail information about what she is doing. "That's just up in the air," he said.

Meanwhile, Susan LaCount has been talking on the telephone with her husband and daughter several times a week, he said. Because her schedule is erratic, she is the one to call home and the conversations last about five minutes, he said.

"Right now, it seems like she is working 24/7," he said.

Grace gets on the phone, but can't communicate much at her age.

"We tell Grace that Mommy's at work and she's got the kind of work right now that doesn't allow her to come home," he said. "I buy [Grace] little items, little hair clips and brushes and things like that, and tell her they are from Mommy. ... We try to keep Susan's presence in her mind a lot."

Peter LaCount is an administrator in a private social service agency that works with emotionally disturbed children.

"People here have been very flexible," he said. "If Grace has a doctor's appointment or is not feeling well, I can adjust my schedule here. I consider myself fortunate.

"Considering the circumstances, it's been the best situation it could be."

He said one of the hardest things about saying goodbye to his wife is not knowing when she will return. "We're sort of emotionally preparing ourselves for a year," he said, but she could be gone twice as long.

"In a lot of ways, it's harder for Susan," he said. "She's missing all the stuff that happens as a 2-year-old - the walking, the talking, the playing, stuff like that."

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