'We just wait for news, prisoners in our homes'

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The Independent US

For the families of American soldiers fighting in Iraq there has been no time to reflect whether the war is going well, badly, or indeed if it was worth fighting in the first place. They are simply eaten up with anxiety and it gnaws at them all day, every day.

For the families of American soldiers fighting in Iraq there has been no time to reflect whether the war is going well, badly, or indeed if it was worth fighting in the first place. They are simply eaten up with anxiety and it gnaws at them all day, every day.

"After a week of very little sleep, my body aches from head to toe. My throat hurts, my face is breaking out, and my pants feel loose around my waist," says Jenny Sokol, a naval academy graduate and mother of two small children from California whose husband, Blair, is with the marines somewhere in Iraq.

"Does the media know that when 'Marine Chopper Down' flashes across a TV screen, thousands of American families clutch their hearts and wait for a knock on the door? Wives call each other, trying to piece together what type of aircraft went down," she says. "Then they just wait, prisoners in their own homes."

The same is true for Tammy Lindt, a single mother from Idaho who discovered recently that her only son, JC, was on the front lines with the 3rd Infantry. "I have my days," she told the Idaho Statesman newspaper. "I just worry about the biological and chemical stuff more than anything."

In military towns across the United States, sentiment is overwhelmingly in favour of the war, and those who have reservations have largely kept their feelings to themselves. Mostly, there is a spirit of unswerving solidarity with the troops. Trees and lamp-posts are strewn with yellow ribbons, especially in communities in San Diego, California, and Fort Hood, Texas, that have received bad news from the front.

The list of casualties makes for heart-breaking reading. With a few exceptions, the victims have been in their late teens or early twenties.

Their hometown newspapers have been filled with touching stories of their youthful enthusiasm, their prowess on high school sports teams and their straightforward aspirations to build a decent life for themselves.

Some were red-blooded patriots. One was a Mexican immigrant hoping to prove himself as an American hero. Others entered the services as a way of earning a living and never guessed what horrors would await them.

Because of the itinerant nature of military life, some victims were hardly known in the places listed as their home towns. "Even though we don't know him, we want to stand with his family," one official in Brazoria, Texas, said of Staff Sergeant Philip Jordan, who died outside Nasiriyah.

It is perhaps too soon to know if the progress of the war – far harder and bloodier than generally expected – has had an impact on the political thinking of military families. Although they enjoy greater communication with their loved ones than in previous conflicts – soldiers have the chance to e-mail or telephone using a prepaid card system known as Operation Uplink – contacts are still sporadic. Fighting soldiers tend to spare their relatives combat details or any sense of the danger, but families can deduce that by watching television and reading the newspapers.

One soldier from Idaho now fighting outside Basra, Larry Woodard, begged his family never to join the protests against the war. But other families feel differently. A woman in San Diego whose fiancé is at the front, Monica Izquierdo, was recently photo-graphed at an anti-war rally carrying a sign that read: Bring our troops back now.

Julianne Donovan, an army veteran from Kansas City, e-mailed her friends yesterday with a passionate anti-war message. And she added: "Just because I'm opposed to the war, does not mean I am unAmerican or that I don't support the personnel overseas fighting for us. I do support them and hope for their quick and safe return."

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