3 local moms share pride, fears as daughters serve in wartime

Sunday, October 21, 2001

Fear is first.

Then there's a mixture of worry, angst and apprehension.

Add to that a generous amount of pride and patriotism, and it's just a sampling of the mixed bag of feelings Melodie Enos, Deborah Griffin and Karen Wilkinson -- three friends who each have a daughter in the military -- are experiencing these days.

And all three women have become queasy from the emotional storm.

"You run the gauntlet of emotions, you really do," said Griffin, 38, of Jackson, Mo. "You can't help but be afraid for them, and it's making me a wreck. It's making all of us a nervous wreck."

The three women are members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3838 Ladies Auxiliary, and all three are close friends. They spend some time most days chain-smoking, watching the news and updating each other about their daughters' whereabouts, safety and mental state.

To be in the auxiliary, a family member must have served in a combat zone. Wilkinson had three brothers in Vietnam, Enos' brother served in that conflict and Griffin's husband was in Vietnam.

"It was the auxiliary that brought us together, but our daughters that bonded us," Griffin said.

Griffin has a 21-year-old daughter, Laura Garcia, who is in the Air Force. Griffin said she is not allowed to say where her daughter is stationed, except that she is not abroad. She said she can't talk about it because her daughter interprets covert satellite imagery in the Military Intelligence Division, and that information is classified.

Wilkinson, 41, of Jackson, has a 19-year-old daughter, Alicia Priest, in the Marines, who is stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and works on generators.

Enos, 41, of Cape Girardeau, has a 19-year-old daughter, Joey Adams, in the Navy, where she programs the disks that guide Tomahawk missiles to their targets. She also has a son who serves in the National Guard.

"It's on my mind every day," Wilkinson said. "It's scary. But she's been trained well and she's got brains. At some point, all you can do is hope that's enough."

Different assignments

Enos says she was surprised her daughter went into the Navy, where she is stationed at Norfolk, Va. Her daughter wanted to be a lawyer since she was a small child.

"She's really smart. She takes after her mother," Enos said with a chuckle. "She still might do it. I wouldn't put it past her."

But when her daughter joined the Navy while she was still in high school, Enos knew Joey was too strong-willed for her mother to change her mind.

"I wouldn't try to talk her out of it," she said. "I wouldn't have her do one thing different. I'm so proud of her decision to stand up and defend us."

Wilkinson said she was glad her daughter joined, too, and still is.

"She was almost too pretty," Wilkinson said. "I knew she was going to be a handful, so I appreciate what the discipline did for her."

But she did wonder why her tomboy daughter chose the Marines, typically thought to be the toughest branch of the Armed Forces. She asked why Alicia wanted to join the Marines when she had three brothers in the Navy.

"She said she wanted to do what was the toughest. Typical," Wilkinson said.

Griffin perhaps has more to worry about than her friends. Six months ago, her daughter had a baby boy, Aaron Paul Garcia. Then, after the war started, her daughter's husband -- who is also in the military -- was sent to Uzbekistan.

"I'm scared to death," Griffin said, becoming emotional. "She's tired, she's stressed and she's worried about doing her job. She's working 12-hour days and struggling to find day care. She's trying to be super soldier and super mom."

That may make it more understandable that Griffin, unlike her friends, says if she could do it over again, she would have tried harder to talk her daughter out of joining the military.

"I fought her tooth and nail," she said. "I fought her every step of the way, and I fought the recruiter, too. And if I could, I'd bring her back. Maybe it's not the most noble thing, but she's my daughter."

The women say they keep in contact with their daughters in varying degrees. Griffin can talk to her daughter twice a day. Because her daughter is in Okinawa, Wilkinson said she speaks to her daughter less frequently.

All say it's possible their children could end up in the Middle East. Wilkinson said her daughter is in the third deployment, and the first two deployments have already gone.

Women at war

History paints war pictures of "the boys" being "called to arms." These women say that times have changed and -- while women have always played vital roles during wartime -- they have become more visible and more recognized.

More than 200,000 women are in the Armed Forces today. Authorities on the subject say the number of women who have died in the line of duty conservatively is placed at 2,000.

"It's different for boys, but I never imagined my little girl would someday go off to war," Wilkinson said. "But I think it's great for females being recognized this way."

Enos said that today's Army shows how the gender lines have blurred.

"We've shown we can do what a man can do," Enos said. "We don't have any limitations anymore. Our daughters have shown that."


335-6611, extension 137

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