Their lives in limbo, war wives soldier on

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NORMAL — It’s not easy on the war wives left behind.

While Kathy Murdoch’s husband is in Iraq, the Normal woman fights feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Kathi Drozs, of Clinton, copes with raising two children alone. Loneliness affects her, too, as it does Jill Dorbeck of Bloomington.

Each woman has a husband in the Illinois Army National Guard 33rd Military Police Battalion, which shipped out of Bloomington a year ago last month amid much fanfare, including hundreds of people lining the streets as the battalion left town via Veterans Parkway.

About 70 soldiers with the 33rd left the Twin Cities, including about 30 from McLean County. The unit arrived in Iraq in October.

Dorbeck’s husband, Sgt. Richard Dorbeck, a motor pool sergeant who was recently home on leave, said the wives “have it as bad if not worse than we (soldiers) do,” noting that spouses must cope not only with running their households, but with raising children alone.

While various local support groups like State Farm Insurance Cos.’ Military Affinity Group (MAG), Operation Porchlight and the Family Readiness Group help with things like home repairs, there is nothing that can replace the reliance spouses have on each other.

“We cling to each other,” said Drozs, adding she and Kathy Murdoch talk at least once and sometimes three or four times a week.

Their husbands, both named Chris, are scheduled to come home by early October.

Even with increased talk of troop reductions in Iraq, there remains no end in sight for the four-year-old war. The wives know nothing is certain — and that the military has extended deployments before.

“We’re holding our breath,” Murdoch said.

While they wait, they continue to lean on one another, talking on the telephone, doing things together outside the home and having dinner together.

The most trying times are at night.

That’s when Kathy and Chris Murdoch would discuss their days over a meal.

“With me, it hits after I put the kids to bed,” said Drozs, referring to Zachary, 5, and Morgan, 3.

Drozs, who’s been married about seven years, said Morgan has a hard time understanding why her daddy isn’t home.

For Dorbeck, “I’ve missed having someone around to smile at you and say good night.”

She said some of that missed time was made up recently during her husband’s leave.

“We took an overnight trip to Wisconsin and went to Gene’s to get ice cream,” she said.

Young marriages put on hold

Murdoch, married about a year before her husband’s deployment, said family life remains on hold more than a year after he left home.

Her work as a medical technologist at a local hospital keeps her busy. So do household projects she’d normally share with her husband, who works in supply and logistics in Iraq.

Drozs, who has worked as a probation officer, is now a stay-at-home mom. “Chris feels strongly that this is where I should be,” she said.

Both communicate with their husbands by e-mail and webcam and are proud of their husbands’ mission and appreciative of community support — as are their husbands.

Drozs said soldiers from the battalion still think back to their big Twin City sendoff.

While such community support is important, it’s also important that the women rely on each other, said Scott Vogel, a spokesman for the American Red Cross of the Heartland, which has been part of a family support group.

“They get a sense of not being alone,” he said. “We’re not only proud of the soldiers but their families.”

Though under stress, families do their best to keep the soldiers informed of what’s going on at home.

Besides using the Internet, Murdoch and Drozs communicate with their husbands by sending packages with fruit cups and beef jerky, among other items.

And their husbands return the favor, sending home flowers when they can.

The greatest gift

Flowers are fine, but Jill Dorbeck got something at the end of June far better — her husband, home on leave for about two weeks. He returned to Iraq earlier this month.

But, while he was home, he was able to celebrate his son Carter’s first birthday.

“We had family over and had cake and it was very low key,” said Jill Dorbeck, who hopes her husband of 2 ½ years will be home on schedule in October.

And even with growing opposition in the U.S. to the Iraq war, Richard Dorbeck noted how public support for soldiers hasn’t waned.

“We’re there to do a job. History will look at the rest of it,” he said.


Calling in support

There are several local support groups for soldiers serving overseas and their families:

Operation Porchlight

Created through a coalition of community groups, this organization can be contacted through the American Red Cross of the Heartland at (309) 662-0500 or the United Way of McLean County at (309) 828-7383.

Military Affinity Group (MAG)

Based at State Farm Insurance Cos., the contacts there are Sharon McCauley at State Farm at (309) 763-5527 or Curt McGinnis at State Farm at (309) 735-3864.

Family Readiness Group

The organization also serves as a resource referral to families while soldiers are away. The group meets monthly while soldiers are deployed. The contact person is LaTonya Harris at (309) 829-6594.

Central Illinois Proud Families of Marines

Formed earlier this year, the group can be reached through Penny Feehan at (309) 828-0190. The group meets once a month and has a Web site, http://www.cipfm.us, and e-mail at waiting4return@yahoo.com.

SOURCES: Scott Vogel of the American Red Cross of the Heartland; LaTonya Harris; Sharon McCauley and Penny Feehan.

Compiled by Bob Holliday

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~ by Brad Edwards on August 16, 2007.

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