- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

When the U.S.-led coalition of forces invaded Iraq last week, Rene Fizer knew her job had just become a lot more important.
Mrs. Fizer runs a support group for military spouses at Fort Belvoir in southern Fairfax County. When the war in Iraq began, she said, "This group is going to become more critical than ever."
Military support groups and family services are helping spouses of service members deal with their fears for husbands and wives serving in Iraq.
"It's a very rare person who can make it through a deployment without some sort of support," said Pat Henderson with Fleet and Family Support at Virginia Beach's Naval Air Station Oceana, which has deployed several aviation squadrons to the war on aircraft carriers.
The need for support has been increased by the capture of Americans by Iraqi forces and the prospect of more battlefield casualties and prisoners of war.
"I was being brave and tough, but I don't feel that way anymore," said Navy wife Danieli Hopple, 35, who has three boys, ages 4, 6 and 17, and does not know where her husband, Joe, a senior chief petty officer, is fighting. She is the ombudsman providing support for all the spouses of personnel deployed from the medical clinic at Naval Air Base Patuxent in St. Mary's County, Md.
When reports of American soldiers killed or captured are broadcast, military spouses fear the worst, Mrs. Fizer said.
"They all wonder, 'Could that be him? Is that my husband? Where is he?'" Mrs. Fizer said.
In addition, most contact with spouses has been cut off in the past week, since the invasion of Iraq began. E-mail that kept members of the military in touch with family and friends is not available to troops on the ground as they move farther from the rear and it has been cut off on most ships to protect the secrecy of their locations from the enemy.
"Now that things have started, it makes [spouses] really anxious because they may not hear from them for a while," Mrs. Fizer said.
Christina Mills, 20, whose husband, Cory, petty officer second class, is on board the hospital ship USNS Comfort in the Persian Gulf, said the e-mail blackout "makes everything worse.
"All you have to rely on is the news."
Watching or listening to a lot of news coverage is not a good thing, some spouses say. They say the intense and unprecedented news coverage given to this war is too much.
Dave Weichsler, who provides support for 150 members of an assault-craft unit at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Norfolk, spoke with 25 spouses, and 20 of them said the news coverage of the war has gone overboard.
"It's affecting the children because it's on the news so much," Mr. Weichsler said.
Dealing with children's questions can be one of the greatest puzzles for spouses left behind by service members, who must fill the roles of both father and mother.
Parents ask questions such as, "Should I tell the kids everything going on? Should I limit their television viewing?" Mrs. Henderson said. "We're not in the advice business. What I always tell parents is that they know their children better than anybody. What a parent is often looking for is validation of their own decisions, more than anything else."
For parents such as Mrs. Hopple, who has a teenage son and two younger boys, the pressures of having an older child can be difficult. Her older son "doesn't ask any questions," she said. "I told him his dad's all right, and that was that."
Support groups can provide an outlet for stress from situations like Mrs. Hopple's.
"I find comfort in talking to other Navy wives," she said.
Mrs. Henderson said, "Many don't have family close by, so they have to make their own family through these support groups."
For a military wife such as Mrs. Mills, who moved with her husband to Fort Belvoir from Florida six months ago and has two daughters, ages 1 and 2, it's easy to become isolated.
"I don't have anyone to talk to, except my family, and they don't know what it's like," she said.
Military support personnel said the nonmilitary community can aid military spouses by helping them in seemingly small ways.
"If you know someone has a spouse deployed, it's just the little things: offering to cut their grass or taking their kids off their hands for a few hours," Mrs. Fizer said.
The military fleet- and family-support services also provide individual counseling upon request, information referral for help with financial, housing and other issues, and multiple workshops on parenting, stress relief, crisis response and other topics.

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