For Children of Soldiers, an Anxious Christmas
BAUMHOLDER, Germany (AP) _ It’s almost Christmas and LeAnn Wiley, a thoughtful 13-year-old child of the military, is trying to prepare herself for yet another long absence by her U.S. Army chaplain father.
``He misses our birthdays. He misses our graduations. It’s kind of nice when you’re little to have your parents both kiss you goodbye on your first day of school,″ says the soldier’s daughter.
LeAnn and her 11-year-old sister Amy, both Korean-born, are tired of telling their adoptive father, Maj. Craig Wiley, ``Gee, Dad, remember what happened last year?″
Many of the children in this U.S. Army community, which is sending most of its soldiers to Bosnia to enforce a newly signed peace, consider the Christmas holidays ruined.
Over the next few weeks they’ll be doing what children of professional soldiers do time and again _ bid them goodbye.
``I’ll be scared,″ said Justin Zimmerman, 12, of Elizabeth, Ill.
His father, Capt. Ronald Zimmerman, is part of the 40th Engineer Battalion, which expects to be clearing some of the estimated 6 million land mines in Bosnia.
Justin and LeAnn attend the American High School in Baumholder, where 3,200 troops from the 1st Armored Division are shipping out for Bosnia duty. Some will be gone by Christmas, the others soon after.
The children are among 7th grade students of English teacher Patricia Dengel whose farewell letters to departing parents were quoted by President Clinton in a speech in Baumholder on Dec. 2.
LeAnn Wiley’s letter ran to three pages, compared with the single-sheet efforts of most of her classmates.
``I guess you know how much I hate the fact that you are going to Bosnia,″ she wrote. ``I know it’s selfish because other people need you, but I can’t help it.″
U.S. planners say the deployment will last a year.
``A year is a very long time, and what will I do when you’re gone?″ Benjamin Maye, 12, of Monterey, Calif., asked in his letter to his father, Staff Sgt. Larry Maye.
As school ended for the holidays, Ms. Dengel’s students spoke to a reporter at their school in this town where American residents outnumber their German neighbors four to one.
In all, some 1,100 of the 20,000 American soldiers being sent to Bosnia are leaving children behind, the U.S. military says.
In the meantime, German neighbors who ordinarily take in single U.S. soldiers at Christmas time have asked what they can do to help families this year, said Lt. Col. Tom Stott, commander of the Baumholder base.
Some children are returning to the United States because both of their parents are going to Bosnia. Others have grandparents or relatives staying with them while their parents are gone for a year.
The Army children, some of whom had a parent in the Gulf War, put a brave face on their anxiety and express pride in their parents. But they admit to fears and frustrations.
``I don’t want him to go,″ said 12-year-old John Reed of Richmond, Ky., about his father, Sgt. Jeffrey Reed, who also served in the Gulf War.
Letters by the children also betrayed the tensions besetting many homes.
``I realize that Mom and I have been bickering a lot lately,″ said Dionne Englert, 12, of Fort Lewis, Washington, in her letter to her father. ``It really hurts to see you go.″
Deanna Brauer, 11, and her mother only recently moved to Baumholder and will settle in without her father, mechanic Sgt. Richard Brauer.
The same thing happened when the family moved to Texas and Brauer was sent to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War.
``After seeing some of the horrible images on TV, it got even harder, realizing that’s where my dad’s going,″ said Deanna.