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March 20, 2003
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Families of Soldiers Watch With Anxiety
Families of Soldiers Overseas in Persian Gulf Watch With Anxiety, Pride

The Associated Press

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HINESVILLE, Ga. March 20

When Monicka Bachellor's 7-year-old daughter asked over breakfast Thursday if her father was at war, Bachellor put on a brave face and said she wasn't sure.

Bachellor was still telling herself the same thing. Perhaps, she hoped, the first U.S. missile strikes on Iraq had killed Saddam Hussein. Maybe her husband, an artillery soldier with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division poised on the Iraqi border, wouldn't have to fight after all.

But as Bachellor, sitting in her modest brick home with plastic Easter eggs hung from a tree out front, watched reports later Thursday that her husband's division had begun shelling Iraq with artillery, her brave face shed a few anxious tears.

"They're saying our guys are shooting," said Bachellor, whose husband is Sgt. Michael Bachellor of the 1st Battalion, 141st Field Artillery Battery. "I'm trying to stay strong. It's just a scary time. I'm just hoping for his safety."

Soldiers' families in this southeast Georgia military town abutting Fort Stewart, the largest Army post east of the Mississippi River, watched and worried as their hometown troops from the 3rd Infantry entered the fighting.

About 20,000 soldiers of the 3rd Infantry from Fort Stewart and Fort Benning near Columbus, Ga., are leading the ground invasion of Iraq. Armed with 200 tanks and 260 Bradley fighting vehicles, the 3rd Infantry specializes in desert warfare. Many of its senior soldiers played a key role in crushing Saddam's invasion of Kuwait during the first Gulf War.

News that the division's artillery batteries had begun firing on southern Iraq ended a long period of waiting for military families in Hinesville, where the first troops deployed in September. Fast-food marquees still read "God Bless Our Troops" and yellow ribbons have hung from utility poles so long they have faded almost to white.

Bachellor has been getting moral support from her older brother, Mike Hicks, a Vietnam veteran from Mansfield, Ohio. He arrived in town three weeks ago to help with her two small children Sky, 7, and Kevin, 3 and his military background has been a source of comfort.

"He's in a pretty safe area, really," Hicks told Bachellor, saying her husband's battery would be in the rear of the infantry units.

"No war's a good war. None of them are 100 percent safe. But he's in a very survivable outfit."

Just before the bombing started, Army wife Tina Morales also was comforted by words from someone with military experience her husband, Spc. Joseph Morales, whose latest letter arrived this week.

"He told me he knows his job very well and he's very confident in himself and what he can do," Morales, whose husband is also in the 3rd Infantry's 141st Field Artillery, said as she packed for a trip to California to visit her mother-in-law. "That makes me feel a whole lot better."

Another wife from their unit, Shauna King, had avoided watching the news for two months during the troop build-up in Kuwait.

Now, "I can hardly turn it off," she said Thursday.

King tried to busy herself with other things cleaning house and playing with her 6-month-old daughter, Kali, who rolled herself over for the first time Thursday.

But King, wife of artillery Spc. Justin King, had expected a longer wait before 3rd Infantry troops took action on the ground. Hearing it so soon, she said, was a mixed blessing.

"Before it was just air strikes. Now it could be our guys fighting right this minute," she said. "You're glad it's going quick, but you just want it over now."

Not only spouses of soldiers watched the war erupt. Shoppers at the Hinesville Wal-Mart paused with their shopping carts to watch updates on televisions throughout the store.

And Katherine Blair, who until recently made her living giving $5 buzz-cuts to local soldiers, kept the radio turned up in the taxi cab she started driving last week to make ends meet.

"Everybody's more quiet now than they were a few days ago. They're just walking around, `What are we going to do? What's going to happen?' like after a tornado," Blair said.

She picked up fares Thursday wearing a black infantry T-shirt with the slogan "Mess with the Best, Die like the Rest." But she also found herself tearing up when the radio played Ray Charles' version of "America the Beautiful."

"Hey, these are tears of pride," Blair said. "It's fear, pride, humbleness it covers everything. That's the way I think everybody should be."

photo credit and caption:
Monicka Bachellor and her 3-year-old son Kevin share a happy moment at her home in Hinesville, Ga., Thursday March 20, 2003 after opening a letter from her husband who is fighting in Iraq with the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division Artillery. Bachellor said she gets about one letter every three weeks from the Middle East. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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