Soldier's wife learns to live with her fears
The fear, Diana Parisian says, is debilitating.
"It was a cakewalk, Desert Storm was. They were over there, but they weren't immediately involved. They didn't have to shoot at everyone back then."
Parisian said her husband, Rocky Boy native and Gulf War veteran Sgt. Richard Parisian, is camped in or near Baghdad, probably around the international airport, with an armor battalion of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. The last time she heard from her husband was Wednesday, in a letter dated March 14. His last phone call was seven weeks ago.
"When I hear cars drive by my house I freak out, because I think, 'Who is it, are they coming to my door?'" Parisian said, referring to teams consisting of a chaplain and a noncommissioned officer whose unenviable job is to deliver sorrow to the civilians left behind.
"What comes to my mind a lot is that sometimes I wish he would break a leg or something that's not life-threatening but that they have to send him home," she said.
Parisian lives near many of the wives of men in her husband's platoon in Hinesville, a small town near Fort Stewart, Ga.
She takes Valium to deal with the stress. "I work at a doctor's office, and if I didn't have some tranquilizers, I don't know how I would do it. That's what keeps me sane right now," she said. "I just couldn't handle it otherwise. I couldn't function."
But she is not alone.
"I first thought I was crazy and then I started talking to my friends about it and they said, 'No, you're not crazy,'" she said. "They feel the same way."
Parisian is one of the platoon's contact people. She relays messages and information to a few of the other soldier's wives, most of whom she says have remained in Hinesville.
"They were just asking if anybody was interested," she said. "It doesn't consume a lot of time. I think I'm one of the few wives that have gone through it before. I just call periodically to check on them and see how they're doing."
During the last week in March, Richard Parisian's battalion suffered its first loss, when one of its soldiers was shot and killed by an Iraqi sniper.
Back in the United States, his wife had to make some calls. "I had to call them all," she said. She would never have to contact the widow, but still, the task wasn't easy.
"They were happy that it wasn't their husband, but they were sad it was somebody else's husband. That was pretty bad," she said.
Last Friday another soldier from the battalion was killed during a vehicle accident. Again she had to call some of the wives, but not, of course, the wife of the dead soldier.
Parisian has lived much of her life as a military spouse. The German native met Richard Parisian in 1988 when he was stationed at a base east of Nuremberg, Germany. They were married in 1989.
Since then, Richard Parisian has served at Fort Riley, Kansas; in Kuwait; in Germany a second time; Macedonia; Fort Lewis, Wash .; South Korea; and Kosovo before coming to Fort Stewart in 2001.
The Box Elder High School graduate has been in the Army 17 years, and is set to retire in 2006. He earned the Bronze Star in the first Gulf War, and has a Combat Infantry Badge, an Air Assault Badge, an Expert Infantry Badge and numerous commendation and achievement medals. He was recently promoted to a mortar platoon sergeant in Iraq.
His wife was with him all the way - but not always in the same place.
She stayed in Kansas while her husband went to Kuwait, in Germany when he went to Macedonia, and in Washington state when he was in Korea.
But if anyone believes that members of military families don't have misgivings about wars their loved ones fight in, Parisian is quick to say that they are wrong.
Last week Parisian remembered back to the night before her husband shipped out in January, when the two of them, who have no children, were discussing the war.
"He was packing all his things and I was like, 'I think it's just not right,' and he said, 'It is right, we've got to do this.'" Her husband was getting upset, so she dropped the discussion.
Parisian, said many of the military wives she knows have had similar doubts about the war.
"All the people that aren't involved are saying things like 'Go kick ass' or whatever. It's easier for them to say that," she said.
This week, after nearing what appears to be a successful conclusion in Baghdad, Parisian has fewer doubts.
"Everybody is feeling pretty positive now," she said. "They just know, they say, 'I feel everything is going to all be OK.'"
The fears inevitably remain, not only for the husbands' physical survival while they're there, but for their mental health when they come back.
Parisian said this war is different from the first Gulf War. Then, she said, "He never had to shoot at anybody. I'm pretty sure he's had to now."
"I'm worried when he gets back," she said, "how is he going to be? How is that going to effect the rest of his life, if he had to shoot people or whatever?"
Since her husband guarded Iraqi soldiers in the first Gulf War, was in a peacekeeping force in Macedonia, and patrolled the DMZ in Korea, Parisian said, he was largely sheltered from carnage.
Not entirely, though. After the first Gulf War, her husband told her about driving onto an Iraqi highway one night after it had been bombed.
"There were bumps everywhere," in the dark as they drove, she said. "When they got out, they noticed it was dead Iraqi soldiers."
For now, though, Parisian doesn't know what her husband is experiencing, whether grisly or antiseptic. His letters focus on the lighter side of life in the desert.
"He tries to put funny things in there," she said.
"He drew me a picture of his tent before the wind and after, and it was crooked and everything, so that was pretty funny," Parisian said, also recalling a little desert bathroom humor. Her husband wrote to her that things in camp have been a little easier for him the second time around, at least in one sense. "He doesn't have to burn men's waste anymore because he's higher ranking now," she said.
In the latest letter, Richard asked Diana to send batteries, snacks and baby wipes, and described a few of the difficulties of life in the desert.
"We have to hang a trash bag off the vehicle to take a shower after we poke holes in the bag," he wrote in the letter.
Between the positive images on the news, and the recent letter she received, Parisian said things aren't quite as bad.
"I'm still edgy," she said. "I'm a little bit calmer, but I know it's not over, and I know a lot of things can still happen."
But there seems to be a strange disjunction between the up-to-the-minute news she sees on the television and the voice she receives in letters, more than three weeks old.
Parisian said she has not received a letter written after the war started, so her husband's daily existence to her now is largely a mystery.