Frustrated, military families in region face challenges but back government
Reuniting military families brings its own set of problems.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Several families of area military Reserve and National Guard units say they strongly support the military and the war on terrorism despite frustrations with deployments -- some back-to-back -- and tour extensions in the Middle East.
"It's very frustrating," said Cheri McCandless of South Euclid, whose husband, Army National Guard Capt. James McCandless, is in Iraq.
"But I realize it's something that needs to be done and that he believes in it very much," said Mrs. McCandless, formerly Cheri Loomis of Howland.
A 1993 graduate of Howland High School, she is on maternity leave from her nursing job at University Hospital in Cleveland. The couple's first child, James, was born Aug. 27.
Capt. McCandless, a Shaker Heights policeman, is commander of the Army National Guard's 135th Military Police in Brookpark. Members of the unit are in Iraq providing security for convoys and training Iraqi police officers.
McCandless was activated Oct. 11, 2001, and spent 10 months at Fort Bragg, N.C. Reactivated Feb. 24, 2003, he was then due home in February 2004. But, earlier this month, his tour was extended for an additional six months, meaning he will spend at least 12 more months in the Middle East, his wife said.
Shawn Marsteller of Wheatland, Pa., whose husband, 1st Lt. Jeffrey Marsteller, recently returned from Afghanistan, said she "would be frustrated" if her husband were called up again, but not with him or the military or the government.
Instead, she said her anger lies with the "terrorists who put us in this situation. I really back the troops and the government in this," she said.
Lt. Marsteller, commander of the Army Reserve's 326th Quartermaster Detachment in New Castle, was sent to Afghanistan in December 2002, along with six others from the 326th. He arrived home Aug. 20, the first birthday of his fourth child, son Reagan.
In the meantime, other members of the 326th have been sent to Iraq.
Mrs. Marsteller admits to some irritation with the changing dates they are given for when their loved ones are coming home. Her husband was to return in June, and then it was changed to August.
Eddie Saad of Atwater, Ohio, whose husband, George, is a senior master sergeant with the Air Force Reserve's 910th Airlift Wing in Vienna, echoed Mrs. Marsteller's sentiments.
"If they would just give us a date to focus on, it would be much easier," she said.
Saad and others from the 910th were deployed to Iraq on Aug. 31. They had just returned home July 1 after several months in Germany.
"Part of the frustration comes from not knowing what's going on with him," Mrs. Saad said. "They have to be very vague. And you don't know when they are coming back. They always say they are fine and not in danger. Then you watch the news, and you know it's dangerous."
Saad's civilian job is with the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The Saads have two children from Eddie's previous marriage: a son, Ross Cadwell, 12, and a daughter, Crystal Cadwell, 9. Her first husband was killed in an auto crash.
"I'm not aggravated with the military and government," Mrs. Saad said. "I have so much confidence in my husband. I think he's the best man for the job. He's just got to go. He believes in what he's doing.
"What's really hard on me is when I tell people that George is gone and they say, 'I don't even know what we're doing over there.' When they start putting down what we're doing, I get so mad at them. I can't believe they can know about the people who were in power over there and wonder why he had to go."
The 910th Airlift Wing's family support group conducted a survey of the families of the unit's deployed members to find out what issues concerned the people at home.
Not surprising, the top issue is separation, followed by finances and home and vehicle maintenance.
Though not a part of the 910th survey, Mrs. McCandless agrees with its findings on separation.
"I miss him like crazy," she said. "You want to tell them stuff -- simple things, like so and so did this. But you can't because the communication is so difficult. I'm constantly making a list about what I want to tell him or ask him the next time we talk."
With a downsized active military and American troops deployed in numerous areas, reservists and guard members more and more find themselves deployed and away from families and jobs for long periods of time.
When deployment happens, often suddenly, the remaining parent has to shoulder the responsibilities of two.
Some soldiers' families have to make do with less money because their civilian jobs pay more than the military, and the civilian employer does not make up the difference, family readiness groups say.
Finances did not become an issue for the Marstellers. However, Mrs. Marsteller was left alone with four children: Denee, 13, Hallie, 9, Brennan, 6, and baby Reagan.
Families of reservists depend heavily on family, friends and their unit's family support groups.
Mrs. McCandless said both she and her husband's families are very supportive, and the city of Shaker Heights had her lawn mowed for her. But even with help, she said there are many challenges to face.
"The financial decisions are totally up to me," Mrs. McCandless said. "I hope I make the right ones."
Sometimes, even if the deployed spouse is not overseas and daily communications are possible, the spouse left behind can still feel alone making decisions and dealing with family issues.
For instance, the same day that Lori Gebhardt's husband, Army Reserve Capt. Paul Gebhardt, left March 16 for Fort Lee, Va., her mother, Deidre Cleveland, died. Deidre had moved here in 2002 to help with the Gebhardt's daughters, Briar and Darian. The Gebhardts live in Warren.
Capt. Gebhardt, operations officer for the 423rd Quartermaster Battalion at Kunkel Army Reserve Center in Lordstown, returned home June 14.
Because Mrs. Gebhardt is from the Chicago area and her husband is from Minnesota, she does not have local family support.
"Paul got a lot of stressed-out phone calls," she said.
As one way of keeping in contact, Paul took a video of himself saying goodnight to the kids, she said.
"I had to learn to pay the bills. Now that's my job," Mrs. Gebhardt said. "I went back to work [as a licensed practical nurse] as soon as he got back."
She said Briar is really proud of her dad. She made a little "I Wish Book" to send to him. The last page said, "I wish daddy was home."
Eventually the deployment ends and the soldier returns home. But, even the reuniting has its own set of problems.
Mrs. McCandless, whose husband was previously deployed for eight months, said when they come home, "you have to go through everything all over again. It's like being a new couple," she said.
In the same vein, Mrs. Marsteller said her husband experienced things while deployed that she did not, and he is changed because of it.
"I became more independent out of necessity, and I've changed, too," she said. "You'd think it would be easy, but it's kind of like my territory now. I was the primary decision maker for eight months. But now, before I do something I have to think, 'Oh yeah, there's this other person here.'"