- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

Brenda Gilliland's husband left for the war against Iraq in January and her 54-year-old mother is leaving soon, so her four young sons are her succor, even if they seem more like whirling dynamos.
"If I didn't have them around, I'd probably be down in the dumps," she said yesterday. "I'd obsess over it."
Her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Gilliland, 29, left Bolling Air Force Base in Southeast with the 11th Security Forces on Jan. 7. He is providing security with his sniffer dog, King, at an Air Force base in the Middle East in the U.S.-led war to liberate Iraq.
That leaves Mrs. Gilliland, 29, with her boys. There is Seth, 9, whom she calls her "old soul"; 5-year-old Gage, "the charitable one"; Shane, 3, "just like my husband"; and Michael, "the mama's boy," who is 22 months. The boys are continuous blurs of movement and noise.
Seth, who said he wants to be a baker when he grows up, was in the kitchen making cookies. Gage showed off his pet rats, Snuggles and Peter Pan. Shane played with toy guns and ran into walls and Michael followed each of his brothers.
Somehow, their mother was able to keep up with them and speak above the uproar.
"I'm lucky because I have a lot of energy," Mrs. Gilliland said.
Her preoccupation with her sons keeps her from thinking too much about her husband and his safety, or from worrying about her mother, Sgt. Marjorie Homberg, 54, who is stationed in Daytona, Fla.
Mrs. Homberg is scheduled to deploy soon to the Middle East with the 265th Artillery Brigade as support staff.
"The worrying hurts," Mrs. Gilliland said.
Every night when she puts her sons to bed, Mrs. Gilliland said, they ask her when their father will return.
"I really don't have an answer," she said. "It's the not knowing that's the hardest. I'm seriously trying to keep it together for them because they don't need me to be upset while their dad's gone."
When Staff Sgt. Gilliland was stationed at Bolling and on patrol, he would drive by the family's town house at least once a day to sound his siren and flash his lights for the boys. Sometimes he would bring King to play with them.
"My husband was really hands on," Mrs. Gilliland said. "It's a big void since he left."
To fill the gap, her in-laws have been taking care of two of her sons each weekend, so she can give more attention to the two who remain with her.
"It's my turn to stay home this weekend," Seth said.
Bolling's family support services also have offered to take her sons to a Wizards game and have planned activities for families in similar situations.
About 250,000 U.S. military personnel are in the Middle East, and about 50 from Bolling are now deployed around the world.
Seth said it is hard living without his father, even though he has been sending back toys and packages.
"At least we're getting cool stuff," Seth said. "We're just kind of in our normal lives, but I never forget about him and I know he's going to come home safe. He's a nice guy. He likes dogs a lot."
Mrs. Gilliland has kept her sons from watching news reports on the war.
"It's hard enough not having him here," she said. "I don't want them to be scared. They're showing things on the news that are scary for me."
The family also remembers Staff Sgt. Gilliland from a large picture of him in his uniform and with King.
"That's my dad," said Shane, taking a break from playing to point at the picture. "He's far away. He's real, real far away."

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