A wife waits and prays

With her husband in Iraq, Penny Smith struggles with separation.
Friday, March 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:40 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Penny Smith of Hallsville got some bad news on her 27th wedding anniversary: Her husband, Stephen, had re-enlisted in the Army Reserves. She became even more upset when he got deployed to Fort Riley, Kan., two weeks before Christmas.

Then, just last month, she got the call that Stephen, 49, was going to Iraq.

Things haven’t gotten any better for her since then.

“I’m just ready for him to come home,” Penny Smith said. “It seems like they have been gone for an eternity.”

Stephen Smith is stationed in Taji, Iraq — about 17 miles northwest of Baghdad — with the 428th Army Reserve Transportation Company, based in Jefferson City.

Smith tries to be supportive, but she admits it isn’t always easy. A homemaker, Smith has struggled with tasks that her husband would normally handle. Her icemaker is broken, and over the winter the household pipes froze. The house she shared with Stephen suddenly seems too big for her, and she is starting to look for a new one.

One year after the war in Iraq began, with a husband who is now at the center of the conflict, Smith is ambivalent.

“I back President Bush,” she said. “But when we’re dropping like flies and they really don’t want us there, then let’s let them have (Iraq).”

But, more than anything, Smith simply misses her husband. She gets lonely, she says, and misses the times when she and her husband would rent movies.

Smith has received three letters, which take about nine days to get to her, and two e-mails from her husband. It wasn’t until March 14, shortly after she returned home from church, that she finally got to hear her husband’s voice. In Iraq, it’s not uncommon for soldiers to have to wait two to three hours in line for a five-minute phone call home.

Stephen Smith is stationed in Taji, Iraq

Smith said her husband doesn’t like to wait in line. Other soldiers in his unit finally drove him to a phone and made him make the call. Smith said she can tell her husband’s morale is down. In his last letter, he complained about the heat, Smith said.

“I knew he would,” she said. “He likes air conditioning.”

The morale of her granddaughters is also low, Smith said. Morgan, 7, who was very close to her grandfather, won’t talk about him or write him letters.

Megan, 11, cries when she reads his letters.

Smith prays for her husband every day. Her worst day was when she heard on the news that two men from an unidentified unit had been killed near Baghdad. The lack of details worried Smith — until she received his phone call.

Smith sends care packages to Iraq each week with lotion, Q-tips, brown sugar Pop Tarts, sunflower seeds and other snacks. The item most in demand by troops is Wet Wipes, which the soldiers use to bathe because there is no running water. She makes sure to send enough so her husband can share with others in his unit.

Though things have been difficult, Smith has had great support from the Hallsville community. When she found out Stephen was going to Iraq, a group of women from her church came over and sat with her. Another church member also helped out when the pipes froze. Even city hall helps her out.

“They bring me groceries when I need them, and they even drove me to and from the doctor when I needed to go,” Smith said.

Smith is unsure when she will see husband, who is an alderman in Hallsville, again. She has heard rumors that after six months of deployment in Iraq, he will be able to come home for two weeks. Smith can’t wait.

“I just want my old man home.”

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