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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 20, 2001

The September 11th attack
Military personnel, families feeling weight of uncertainty

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Military families in Hawai'i are waiting for the next big thud — a possible attack on Afghanistan — and wondering if they will be involved.

"Right now, everyone is preparing and getting ready, but no one knows what's going to happen yet," said Sgt. Kendra Gasper, 25, a Marine Corps military police officer. "Everyone's kind of on edge waiting for a decision to be made."

In the meantime, assistance programs to help families cope are in high gear at places like the Marine Corps base in Kane'ohe.

Toni Spofford, a "key volunteer" trainer for the Marine Corps in Hawai'i for the past three years, helps spouses provide support to other spouses — efforts that are particularly valuable when troops are deployed.

"It's an invaluable program," said Spofford, whose husband, Col. Cosmas Spofford, works at Camp Smith in strategic planning. "If a Marine leaves tomorrow, a spouse may be left to deal with a car that breaks down, or pay that is short. She can call a key volunteer and say, 'Where do I go for assistance?'"

The support has become extra important with the stress that has been placed on military families in the past two weeks.

"It's an anxious time even if you are not in the armed forces," said Maj. Chris Hughes, a Marine Corps spokesman. "So you can imagine what it's like for us."

Tensions run high

In addition to the national tragedy of Sept. 11, military personnel have seen 100-percent ID checks and car searches, Humvees arrayed outside church services, and guards with M-16 rifles protecting commanders' offices as part of beefed up base security.

Compounding that is the apprehension and uncertainty of what happens next. The Pentagon yesterday ordered dozens more warplanes to the Persian Gulf region, where two aircraft carriers are deployed. A third carrier may be on its way.

First Lt. Kent Robbins, a Marine Corps public affairs officer, said it would be inappropriate to comment on the possibility of fighting in Afghanistan, "because we have yet to be given an order to fight anywhere."

Robbins said the 6,800 Marines at Kane'ohe Bay "are ready to go."

Jeff Rhodes, a Navy commander and chaplain for 17 years, said he was surprised not to see an increase in the approximately 10 Marines he counsels a week.

"I really thought we would see a rise in the amount of people who can't cope and are asking for reasons why that (the terrorist attacks) would happen from a theological standpoint," he said. "I've spoken to other chaplains and they haven't seen that either. Maybe it's just too soon."

Rhodes added, though, that "I can't walk around without people talking about it."

"There is no doubt people are talking about the 'What if?' and 'Am I going?' " he said.

Support available

In the Gulf War in 1991, Hawai'i-based forces eventually included nearly 7,500 Kane'ohe Marines, helicopters and F/A-18 fighter squadrons; 500 soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division (Light) and Army reservists; 50 Hickam Air Force Base security officers; and five Pearl Harbor-based ships.

In addition to "key volunteers," the Marines also have LINKS — Lifestyle Insights Networking Knowledge and Skills, described as a "Marine Corps 101" class for spouses.

The Army has its own "family readiness groups" at Schofield Barracks, providing a network of family support.

A Schofield Barracks chaplain yesterday said there is a "quiet confidence" among 25th Infantry soldiers following the Sept. 11 attack.

Chaplain Larry Conway said four chapels at Army facilities and housing on O'ahu had extended hours last week for soldiers to receive counseling.

"I think the soldiers are coping very well," he said. "This is what our soldiers are trained to do, and they are holding up and dealing with it fairly well."