Anticipating news, local military families, others turn to pray

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Here on the threshold of war, families of servicemen and servicewomen are anxious, church congregations pray for the safety of the U.S. troops and some still pray for peace. On Wall Street, the American economy thrown into shock by Sept. 11, 2001, has started showing signs of life.

War and the threat of war have severe impacts on military personnel and their families, they clearly define questions of moral right and wrong, they create high anxiety in society and have financial effects whether we want to think of them or not. Here are some of the ways:

Theresa and David Hopkins' son, Luke, is somewhere in the Middle East aboard a merchant marine vessel delivering cargo. Only 10 months after graduating from Jackson High School, Hopkins is part of a U.S. Navy Seabee construction unit.

He phoned his family Friday and talked to his fiancee, Amber Lueder of Jackson. He was upbeat and ready to roll, his mother says. "He's all for it."

But these are nervous days for his family, she admits. "It's very anxious for both of us. When we get home in the evening, the biggest part of the time the news is on TV. We're not too far away from our phones. We always have a phone with us."

It helps that both Theresa and her husband come from military families, she says. "You get a better understanding of what's going on. A military family is supportive of the troops and understands exactly what the troops are going through."

Their son joined the Navy to get training that will help him after he leaves the service. But both he and his parents knew when he went in that more than training might be required of him.

"We knew there would be some sort of conflict before this all blew over and was settled," she says. "We're not surprised that has happened."

James Britt Jr. and his wife, Carolyn, of Jackson have one son, Matt, serving in the Mideast and another son, Chris, who leaves Sunday to serve in another hot spot, South Korea.

"Everyone asks us how we can handle it," James says. "We can't control it. We trust in the Lord to get them through whatever is going to happen."

Matt, an Army private, is a psychological operations specialist. One of his responsibilities is the leaflets being dropped telling Iraqis what is about to happen. Soon Iraq will be flooded with vehicles whose loudspeakers can broadcast surrender information up to a mile away. That's part of Matt's job.

"He'll be trying to convince the enemy or friendly foe in enemy territory to walk away," James says.

A month ago, Matt called his family and told them not to be concerned if they didn't hear from him for a few months. They haven't. "That's the hard part," James says.

Chris, a captain, is a West Point graduate. Both sons graduated from Jackson High School.

One day, Matt was asked by his mother how he felt about being in a war zone. He said, "Mom, I can't control what happens on the battlefield. If it's my time, it's my time."

That assured her.

Andrea Schneider doesn't want to hear any whining about war. Her husband, Lt. Col. Glenn Schneider, served in Operation Desert Storm and in Somalia and was stationed in Panama just before the U.S. invasion there in 1989. Since January the Cape Girardeau U.S. Marine Corps reservist has been at Camp Pendleton in California, commanding those who stayed behind.

The Cape Girardeau woman and her three children, ages 16, 13 and 9, are accustomed to his duty absences. "They can be pretty tough and stoic. I'm kind of the same way," she says. "We all know what it means to have someone in the military."

Lt. Col. Schneider is a pharmaceutical sales representative. Andrea is an artist. She would be much more anxious if her husband were in the war zone, she admits. But she gets angry when people get weepy about war, saying it's not helpful to the troops or to the children.

At Alma Schrader, where her daughter, Becky, is a third-grader, Schneider has set up a program through which people can donate comfort items to support the troops. "It's not only for the troops but for my daughter," Andrea says, "so she feels a sense of purpose."

Seeing anti-war protesters pains her. "It hurts. I feel the sacrifice my husband and family are making is very worthwhile and the right thing to do," she says.

Schneider's cousin died in the World Trade Center attacks. She thinks people are complacent if they think terrorism can't occur here again.

The children miss their father. Life is easier when he is home, she says.

"I really appreciate him when he's here. I also appreciate the kind of person he is. He has got a lot of integrity. He's willing to stand up and put his life on the line for other people," she says.

"... I have to be worthy of the kind of man he is."

Carol Messmer of Sikeston, Mo., has started the Southeast Missouri Military Support Group to help not only the American troops but their loved ones at home. They are sending "dream bags" filled with personal hygiene and letter-writing items, lip balm and other essentials.

Messmer is intimately familiar with the needs. Her daughter, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Rebecca Nickell, just returned from Afghanistan in December. She is back with the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, N.C., and is on "mission cycle," meaning she has to be ready to leave within 18 hours. Nickell's husband, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Shawn Nickell, has been in the Mideast since January. Messmer's husband, Walter, served in Vietnam.

This war will be different, she says, beginning with the technology. When her husband was in Vietnam, she spoke to him once a year. "Now there could be a call once or twice a month, and we've had e-mail," Messmer says.

She also thinks Americans are much more supportive of this war than they were of the Vietnam war. "The American public put it behind them," she says.

Many people, especially veterans, want to be included in the war effort, she says. "Until last week or so a lot of people had become complacent about it. It's here. It's facing them square in the face. We've got to understand this is part of life."

Thirteen people attended the group's first meeting in Sikeston. The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at First Realty, 522 S. Main St., in Sikeston.

Churches have been especially busy in the weeks leading up to war. Some are providing their congregations with lists of military members and their families to pray for.

At the House of Prayer Outreach Mission in Cape Girardeau, a group open to the public meets every Monday night to pray for peace. "We're faith-based. We believe in the impossible, and that God will intervene somewhere," says the Rev. JoAnna McCauley, the church's pastor.

McCauley says her church opposes going to war.

At Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau, the Rev. Dr. Clayton Smith says the debate among the congregation hasn't been so much about whether or not to go to war "as where is God's will in this war, and how do we pray for our president and other world leaders." Smith addressed the issues last Sunday in a sermon called "Prayer Boot Camp."

He also talked about the idea of a justified war from the pulpit on Ash Wednesday. The last few Sundays, the congregation has been invited to come forward and kneel in prayer for the president, world leaders "and especially the innocent," Smith says. "We will continue to do that."

At this Sunday's service, a candle will be lit for those who are serving in the military. "We are seeking the light of Christ in the darkness of war," Smith says. "Because war is evil. It may be a necessary evil, but it's still evil."

Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, 401(k) investments dwindled as the stock market has foundered. But Rick Ebaugh, a broker for A.G. Edwards and Sons Inc. in Cape Girardeau, points out that the stock market rose more than 600 points in four days before leveling off more on Tuesday. "I think people are starting to jump back into the market," he says. "We seem to have lifted a cloud over investors' heads."

War could be good or bad for the economy, analysts say.

"I think as long as this war is not one of these long ones and they can get us in and out of there fairly quickly, we'll have good markets," Ebaugh says. The opposite also might be the case. "If we got into a real nasty situation with germ warfare, things could get rough. All bets would be called off in that case."

David Hahs, a financial representative for the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, says the World Trade Center attacks had more of an affect on people's attitudes toward their finances than the impending war has. They started paying more attention to planning for their family's future, Hahs says.

"It caused people to turn their attention to their own personal mortality. They have seen lives interrupted."

Cape Girardeau psychologist Gloria Miller has been seeing more anxious people than usual in her practice.

"A lot of people seem to be very depressed. I feel some anxiety about the whole thing personally," she says.

So far, no one has come to her professionally with specific complaints about the war. But, she says, "I think that will probably happen."

She is encountering "a sentiment that the future is unknown. I think that's kind of the trigger."

Talking to friends and family members or gathering in groups can help ease the anxiety, Miller says.

"There is a need for people to come together. People need to seek out some comfort."

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