The Captains's Wife

He supports his soldiers. She looks after their wives. And in times of war, that means facing the tough questions alone.

War In Iraq

April 09, 2003|By LARRY BINGHAM

CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — The telephone rings and the heart of the captain's wife leaps, hoping it will be her husband. The phone has rung and rung since he left six weeks ago, rung so much that Julie Dentinger has thought of turning it off for just a few hours, but she doesn't dare. Maybe this time, she thinks, it will be him.

Once again, it's another wife calling. She is married to one of the 130 men under the watch and care of Capt. Shane Dentinger, head of Charlie Company of the 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

The wives of the company call the captain's wife with all sorts of questions. Before the deployment, they wanted to know:

Why is my husband working late?

Where is he going?

When is he leaving?

After their husbands left, the wives asked Julie:

Do you know where he is?

Is he getting my letters?

When might he call?

Just as there is a chain of command in the Army, there is a chain of information among wives. The brigade commander's wife tells the wives of the battalion commanders, and they tell the wives of the company captains, and they tell the wives of the platoon leaders, and they tell the wives of the enlisted men - and when it's appropriate, they tell their parents.

Questions move up the chain; answers flow down.

Julie, who is 37, has been the wife of a captain since her husband took command last May. She knows some - but not all - of the answers.

Now that one soldier from their brigade has been killed and the 101st has entered combat, she finds the questions not only difficult to answer but hard to hear.

How will I be notified? asks the wife on the phone.

Who will tell me if my husband is dead?

The company Family Readiness Group is the responsibility of the captain. He is rated on how well the group is organized and how successfully the information flows. But Shane, who is 31, never had time to attend monthly steering committee meetings or deal with gaps in the telephone tree, so Julie stepped in.

She distributes the Army Community Services calendars that post the Little League starting dates in the spring and the swimming pool hours in summer. It's her job to inform the wives of the battalion formal, the company Christmas party, the battalion Easter egg hunt this past weekend.

She makes calls when a wife can't drive and needs a lift to the commissary. She has at her fingertips the number of the chaplain, the psychiatric office and the people who sponsor a money-management class on post. The captain's wife had the foresight last week to go to the Finance Office on payday and prepare for the hazard-duty pay questions she knew would come.

The life of a captain's wife can be a busy one.

"We've been married eight years, and do you know we have not taken one family vacation?" Julie says. "He's never here."

The captain's wife was herself a 26-year-old soldier in the Army, keeping flight records for Black Hawk pilots in Germany, when her fiance called to say he had enlisted.

Both grew up in the town of Cumberland in the Maryland mountains. Julie had joined the service to pay back student loans. She never imagined the Army would become her life, or that she would be the mother of 7-year-old Amanda and expecting a second child alone in Clarksville, Tenn., with a husband at war in Iraq.

Julie feels sorrier for Shane than she does for herself or Amanda or the baby boy who will be named Jack for Shane's father, a World War II and Korea veteran who lived with them before he died.

"It's Shane that's really missing out," Julie says. "Not me. Shane was never around until Amanda was 2 years old. He was at Ranger School. He was at OCS. He was at Air Assault School. We really didn't have a family until she was 2."

The captain is the kind of man who takes a fierce pride in the quality of his work. Before the war, he left their house at 4:30 in the morning and came home between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.

"I told the colonel once, `If you don't let my husband come home by 6 o'clock one night this week to have dinner with us, he's going to sleep on your couch tonight.' The colonel said, `He can't sleep there, because that's where I'm sleeping now.'

"You spend so much time with these people you feel you can vent with them," Julie says. "They feel the same. Like they say, `If the Army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one.' "

When the wives of Charlie Company call, Julie says, "I know how you feel."

How will I let him know I've had the baby? one wife asks.

You call the Red Cross, Julie says. They deliver the message.

The same way, she thinks, I will.

The captain and his wife knew they wanted to have a second child, but he was stationed in Hawaii and that was too far from grandparents in Maryland. The couple waited until they returned to the mainland, but then the captain was assigned to a unit that could be deployed to Afghanistan. So they waited a while longer.

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