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Marine Wives Speak Out After Five Years of Deployments

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Some Marines from Camp Pendleton leaving for Iraq this month are on their fifth deployment. On this, the five-year anniversary of the war, we ask Marine wives if seeing their loved ones go off to war gets any easier with experience. And what is the cumulative effect of multiple deployments on their children? KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

Ana Palecheck and Sophie Berg have something in common: they both said goodbye to their husbands last month, and watched them head back out to Iraq.

But for Berg it is just the second deployment, for Palecheck it is the fifth. The separation and the anxiety doesn't get any easier with experience, Palechek says.

Palecheck : The whole check list of “why didn’t I get an email today? Did he say there was a convoy? Do you think he went out ?” And your head starts and it doesn't matter if it’s the first deployment or the fifth deployment, you still worry.

Ana Palecheck is 38. She's been married to her husband Robert, the first Sergeant in a logistics company, for 15 years.

Sophie Berg is 33. She married Jason, the company commander, three years ago. The wives are both involved in the Armed Forces YMCA at Camp Pendleton, where they agreed to sit down and talk about how the long deployments affect them. They communicate with their husbands by email and the occasional phone call.

But both women say the hardest part of deployments up to a year long is not being able to lean on their partner when the separation and the anxiety gets heavy.

Berg : You recognize the signs, you know when you are starting to feel sorry for your self and feel lonely, because we can’t pick up the phone and say “I miss you” you take your time for you.

Palecheck : You’ve got to take time for all of it and when you sit down you gotta smile and write to him and you might be crying but you Oh I’m having a good day you know the kids are fine.

Berg : I’m fine. I just put “I'm fine” Yep.

Palechek focuses on the children to keep going, Berg has chosen a job that isn't too stressful, but keeps her very busy.   They both talk about how its difficult to sleep at night. Palechek has suffered health problems. Her exhaustion turned into fibromyalgia, a painful nerve disorder.

The stress of the separation is one thing, then there’s the transition when the Marines return home. For Berg, whose husband has only returned from one deployment, the adjustment proved surprisingly easy.

Berg : It was like we’d never even been apart and there was no transitioning or anything, I felt like I’d just been at the commissary shopping and we were coming home.

But Ana Palechek has a different experience after five deployments. She says, especially for her three young children, her husbands’ homecomings were joyous high points.   But the children are learning that the euphoria won’t last.

Palechek : Well, you know how a father comes home and ehh!!! You know… it's a little bit harder each time for each child.

Her 12-year-old son Bobby is having trouble at school. His grades plummeted every time his father redeployed. He is happiest when his father is home. But all three kids have a hard time getting used to their father's different, stricter parenting style. The readjustments are particularly difficult for Amelia, her 5-year-old.

Palechek : Who has better communication with him when he's not here, because when he comes home it’s harder for him to deal with the age and the changes and he feels bad for what he’s missed.

The children have had to get used to the roller coaster ride of having a father who is gone more often than he is home not just once or twice but for critical years of their young lives.

Palacheck says even when her husband is home for nine months, it's hardly time enough to reestablish the relationship. The first few weeks there is a lot of readjusting to the family, and the last few weeks are preparing psychologically for the pain of another separation.

Palacheck : You know what you're going to go through, so you start preparing for it “oh,” you start preparing for the deployment like three, four months before they leave, and I think the more times they deploy, the further out you do the detachment.

Palacheck says she's known her husband since high school so their bond is strong. But she's seen a number of marriages that have broken up because of the seemingly endless deployments. 

For both herself and her children's sake, she can’t wait for the cycle of long anxious deployments and short difficult home visits to be over.

As for Sophie Berg, when her husband returns from his second deployment, she says she hopes to get pregnant. That’s even though she doesn't know if her child will also have to grow up in the stressful cycle of war time service.

Alison St John KPBS News.

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