- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

After 14 years as a military wife, Rene Fizer has plenty of experience to offer the wives, children and other family members at Fort Belvoir who will be left behind if the United States goes to war with Iraq.
Fort Belvoir in southern Fairfax County does not have large divisions of soldiers like many U.S. Army bases. It instead has small units of highly specialized soldiers who typically go overseas alone or in small groups. As a result, their families are left without the usual support services for large divisions, known in the military as Family Readiness Groups.
Mrs. Fizer, 37, started the "Hearts Apart" support group at Fort Belvoir in November, not long after she arrived, to bring together spouses and other families who have loved ones in the Persian Gulf and South Korea as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. They meet once a month to talk about their fears and anxieties, and to help each other cope with the everyday challenges that Mrs. Fizer said only those in the military really understand.
Karen Newcomer, 32, is waiting for her husband, Sgt. Todd Newcomer, 33, to come home from Camp Edwards in South Korea, while trying to raise their three children, ages 13, 6 and 1.
"Dealing with some of those day-to-day things starts to get to you because you don't have that someone to take the pressure off of you," she said. "If the car breaks down, I'm a little mechanically inclined, but it's kind of hard to fix it with three children hanging off of you."
Mrs. Fizer said many of the women in the group are strong and professional, not "needy" people. Yet one woman has been unable to return to work since her husband left two weeks ago. Another returned to her parents' home while her husband was away to seek comfort, but said her mom and dad could not relate to her experience.
"You've got to connect with somebody who is going through the same thing," Mrs. Fizer said.
She knows the pain and anxiety of being separated from a spouse, and is driven by the experience to help.
Fort Belvoir is the 10th relocation in 14 years for Mrs. Fizer and her husband, Maj. Ron Fizer, a 37-year-old nuclear-biological-chemical officer at the Pentagon. She said they have spent much of that time apart, even when together overseas for five years.
She remembers one especially tough time when living in Colorado in 1992 and learning that her husband, who was on training exercises in Canada, was being deployed immediately to Kuwait.
Recalling a car ride after hearing the news, she said, "I was crying so hard that I couldn't see if the lights were green or red.
"My biggest fear was that my husband would not come back," Mrs. Fizer said. "He completes me. He's so much a part of my life."
The group was started in November and now has 15 members, including a couple of men. Still, Mrs. Fizer said many families are unaware of the resource.
"I'm trying really hard to reach them," she said. "I've been there. I know what it's like."
Group members share ideas on how to cope with the stress of raising families single-handedly and on dealing with the uncertainty of when a spouse will return. One woman shared how her children are making a paper-link chain, writing a note or thought on one link each day that their father is gone.
Each of the children are coming to the group sessions with pictures of their parents that will be place on a map.
"I don't want them to feel like they're alone," Mrs. Fizer said. "It's a hard life."

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