- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

PATUXENT RIVER, Md. Danielle Cackowski found a way to stay close to her husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Cackowski, even though he is more than 6,500 miles away serving on a naval hospital ship in the Persian Gulf.
The night before her husband left the Patuxent Naval Air Station on board the USNS Comfort, Mrs. Cackowski, 28, videotaped him reading to and playing with their 15-month-old son, Jakob.
"This is the night before I leave," Petty Officer Cackowski says on the video, looking into the camera lens on the night of Jan. 4. "I just wanted to say goodbye."
Jakob, watching, takes a sip from his juice cup, exclaims "Dada" and laughs.
"Are you going to be a good boy?" his father asks from the screen. "I hope so. Because your daddy is super, super far away and you have to look after your mom."
In the three months since he left the station in south St. Mary's County, about 90 miles from the District, Petty Officer Cackowski appeared on his wife's television screen to speak to her and their son every night for weeks at first. Mrs. Cackowski and Jakob still watch the video several times a week.
They haven't grown tired of it, even after watching countless times.
Mrs. Cackowski's lips move slightly, mouthing the words coming out of her husband's mouth on-screen. She knows them by heart. He is reading a children's book about Scuffers the Sailor Dog to Jakob, who sometimes kisses the screen when he sees his dad, Mrs. Cackowski said.
Sometimes she plays the video during the day while she cleans or plays with Jakob.
"Even to have his voice playing in the background, it helps," she said.
Petty Officer Cackowski is part of a crew that assists helicopters landing and taking off from the 894-foot Comfort, one of the largest trauma facilities in the world, in the Persian Gulf. The ship has 12 fully equipped operating rooms and can accommodate as many as 1,000 hospital beds.
"He's not over there fighting, but he's a part of it," Mrs. Cackowski said. On the video, her husband is sometimes serious, and other times he jokes and laughs, or sings.
Mrs. Cackowski said Jakob's blond curly locks won't be cut until his father comes home, which might be by June 24. Petty Officer Cackowski has given her that date, his birthday, as the day to look forward to, she said.
"You shouldn't rely on the rumor mill, but it gets your hopes up."
Mrs. Cackowski and her husband met through their shared love for books. Petty Officer Cackowski is a native of Duluth, Minn., and met his wife while he was stationed in San Diego and she was working for a company in Doylestown, Pa., that sold hard-to-find books.
After talking on the phone to her over the course of two years while ordering books, Petty Officer Cackowski flew cross-country to meet her. The two fell in love, even though, as Mrs. Cackowski said, "I don't believe in that sort of thing." They were married in 2002.
With the war in Iraq under way, Mrs. Cackowski watches the video to reassure herself and calm her fears. She is afraid of what her husband may witness if U.S. forces suffer casualties. He will be there on deck to see the injured or dead brought off the helicopters.
"Midnight calls to my friend in California keep me sane," Mrs. Cackowski said.
The last part of the video is from the morning Petty Officer Cackowski left. Leaning on his packed sea bag, he plays with his son, who is dressed in a red pajama suit, while Metallica plays in the background.
Mrs. Cackowski watches and says of Jakob, "He had no idea what was going to happen a few hours later. Every time I see this, I think of that."
Jakob, cup in hand, stands nearby, wearing a camouflage sweatshirt and smiling.

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