- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

WURZBURG, Germany — The first thing a visitor to the U.S. Army base at Wurzburg notices is the lack of men.

The youth baseball diamond is still as busy as ever, but when Joe Hall, 12, smashes one deep to left field, it is not his father yelling, “Way to go,” from the bleachers, but his mother, Army wife Sid Hall.

Other parts of the base are also quiet, with only a few customers frequenting the normally bustling military clothing store or the Subway sandwich shop since the soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division, 2nd and 3rd brigades, shipped off to Iraq in February.

“This is our life. It is what I expect as an Army spouse,” says Mrs. Hall, cheering on her son while snapping pictures to send to his father in Iraq.

Her husband, Lt. Col. Frank Hall, has served about three months of a one-year deployment commanding a military intelligence battalion in Tikrit, Iraq.

With U.S. military deployments at their highest level since the 1991 Gulf war, the Hall family is not alone.

The Army says about 320,000 soldiers are deployed or forward-stationed overseas in more than 120 countries around the world, often cleaning out every active-duty soldier on bases such as the one in Wurzburg.

Army bases have been particularly hard hit, accounting for about 120,000 of the 138,000 U.S. servicemen and women now in Iraq, Central Command says.

At some point this year, a U.S. Army spokeswoman says, 26 out of 33 active brigades and combat teams will have been deployed overseas.

Mrs. Hall says she and the 20,000-strong community of military families in the Wurzburg area stay busy picking up the slack while their spouses are deployed.

The busiest place on post is the PX, or Post Exchange, a large department and grocery store. Inside, scores of children pick out colorful T-shirts and other items for summer.

One couple is busy searching for a stroller for their newborn son, while another is picking out sports gear for their children.

Most of all, the PX shoppers show a kindness and warmth to one another, the kind of welcoming air among strangers one would expect to find only in small-town America.

The friendliness stems in large part from the shared experience of holding up the home front while waiting for news from loved ones in Iraq.

Like many of her neighbors, Mrs. Hall wears a pin inscribed with the military’s “hooah” cheer as a visual emblem of the effort to maintain a positive attitude. The pins were provided by Michelle Batiste, wife of the 1st Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. John Batiste.

Mrs. Hall said she often walks Joe and his sister Katie to school, something their father did regularly before he went to Iraq.

One morning, she recalled, both Joe and Katie were beaming because they had read a newspaper article in which their father was quoted.

But Mrs. Hall said she is careful about what she lets the children see. “I am confident, but I do filter the news, because I do not want to stress out the kids,” she said.

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