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Mo. Wives Start Group for Military Kin

March 25, 2003

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) _ For political wives Pat Wilson and Renee Hulshof, war with Iraq has brought unity at home.

Wilson, a Democrat whose husband was Missouri governor, has a son in the Marines she believes is in Iraq. Hulshof, whose husband is a Republican congressman, has a brother directing an Army artillery unit somewhere between Kuwait and Iraq.

Wilson, an elementary school counselor, recently came up with the idea of forming a local support group for military relatives. Hulshof, a hospital fund raiser, called her fellow political spouse and the two wound up tearfully sharing a box of tissues.

``We just clicked immediately,″ Hulshof said.

On Monday evening, Hulshof wore an ``ARMY″ T-shirt and Wilson brought a tray of homemade cookies to the first meeting of their new group. About 30 people attended, mostly parents, along with four military wives.

``What’s nice is that in co-chairing the group, we can set an example of opposite sides of the aisle coming together,″ Wilson said as her husband, former Gov. Roger Wilson, carried trays of soft drinks and cookies. ``We are here to provide support to anyone who has a loved one in uniform.″

Hulshof’s husband is four-term Rep. Kenny Hulshof, who has supported President Bush in going to war with Iraq. He wasn’t able to attend the first meeting, which was private. Frequent laughter could be heard inside, and Hulshof and Wilson said there were also some tears.

``It was a great idea and these ladies are to be commended for coming together,″ said LeRoy Welch, who has a stepson serving in the Army.

The political wives exchanged a gleeful high-five about the turnout and the topics, which they said avoided politics.

``Your opinion on whether or not we should be at war doesn’t matter to us. These sons and daughters and brothers and sisters follow the chain of command when they serve, and for us, politics leaves the room,″ Hulshof said.

That’s because the subject is so personal.

For the Wilsons, it’s about Pfc. Drew Wilson, 20, a bachelor who has served for a year in the Marines. He recently wrote home as he awaited orders in the Kuwaiti desert.

For the Hulshofs, it’s about Army Capt. Ryan Howell, 29, who is based at Fort Benning, Ga., and is in the Middle East with a field artillery unit. Howell’s wife, who is expecting a baby, lives near the Georgia base with their 2-year-old son.

``As a counselor, Pat knows the power of what can happen when people share their burdens _ and their encouragement,″ Hulshof said. ``We’re going to share some tears and share some shoulders.″

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