Category: Archive

Waiting and worrying

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

As U.S., British and Australian forces storm through an increasingly deadly and fractured terrain in the war with Iraq, some have spoken about how the “not knowing” is almost as bad as the terror of following the war’s moment-by-moment twists on television and the Internet.
Mary Quigley, a journalism professor at New York University, has a son, Brendan, who is 24 and in the U.S. Marines.
“We don’t really know much about where he is,” she said. “But he is in Iraq. We believe he went in to Iraq with his unit on early Thursday.”
Brendan Quigley is a second lieutenant. It has been two and a half weeks since his family heard from him, as letters and mail from the Persian Gulf travel very slowly, his mother said.
She has decided not to follow the news of the war obsessively.
“I am on a self-imposed news blackout,” she explained. But recently she discovered that one of the embedded reporters in Iraq, John Murphy of the Baltimore Sun newspaper, appears to be with Brendan Quigley’s unit.
“I look at the Baltimore Sun every morning,” his mother said. “But the difficulty is that you can get updates literally every minute but there is no context. You end up thinking, ‘Is that the Marines who are involved? Which unit is it? Is it my son, is it not my son?’ “
Thousands of miles from New York, other families feel identical tension and fear.
In Bushmills, Co. Antrim, Anne McSeveney is another military mother. Her 20-year-old son, Christopher McSeveney, is lance corporal in the Royal Irish Regiment. Location: Southern Iraq.
McSeveney said her fear for her son was mixed equally with pride for his service. “Sending your son to war is something you can never prepare for. It was very upsetting when he left but we know this is his job and he has to do it. He has worked hard to get where he is,” she said.
Like Quigley, McSeveney has heard infrequently from her son by mail. But she has been unable to stay away from the news on television.
“We watch the news every day to see what is going on and if we are any closer to war, but all we have been told is that Christopher will be in the Gulf for the foreseeable future.”
Most recently, it appeared that Christopher was in base camp in Kuwait.
“He said the sand is a problem and he gets grit in his mouth all the time and all he can taste is sand.”
McSeveney added: “He tells me the heat is terrible and he seems concerned because it is winter there and already it’s too hot for him so it’s going to be unbearable by the time the summer comes.”
Quigley said that the last letter from her son Brendan recalled his training in California, in the boot camp known to Marines as 29 Palms, and hated with a passion.
“He told me that Kuwait makes 29 Palms look like a tropical resort,” Quigley said.
“He has been extremely upbeat. He has a very dry sense of humor, talking about Kuwait as ‘another day in paradise.’ “
One of the most common requests from paradise, however, is for baby wipes, given how infrequently the troops have a chance to clean up. Quigley said she and several other mothers had sent boxes of sani-wipes to their sons and none had reached them for some frustrating reason.
Still, Quigley said she was also finding support in a small email group of other military moms. McSeveney is staying close to her family.
“To be honest if I could go out and be there instead of him I would,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights since he left. I don’t know when I’m going to see him again.”
Lance corporal Christopher McSeveney has been in the Royal Irish Regiment since he was 16.
The waiting game continues not only for the families. Captain Tom Sullivan of the 623rd Transportation Company is still waiting for orders to ship out to what is euphemistically referred to by the military as “south western Asia.”
Sullivan is a reservist who was called up some weeks ago.
“I am not at liberty to say,” is his response when asked when his unit is to leave for Iraq. “But we’re still going.”
His unit will play a vital role in the conflict, carrying vast quantities of gas for refueling military vehicles.
Sullivan said he was both watching the war news and trying not to at the same time.
“It’s a combination of following it and not really following it,” he said. “My family, they have their concerns but they’re doing great.”
Speaking on Tuesday, as sandstorms raged across much of central and southern Iraq, Sullivan said the military training he and his comrades received was excellent, but that it was almost impossible to train for the conditions ahead.
Not every son or daughter in the military will have to cope with sandstorms.
Billy and Jean McNirlan from the Shankill in Belfast have a son, Scott, who is serving on the HMS Ark Royal in the Persian Gulf.
Even though he is a veteran, having been in the Royal Navy since he was 16, Jean McNirlan still fears for him every day.
Perhaps one consolation for those in the navy is that communications is somewhat easier than for the military stretched out across the Iraq desert. Quigley said that her son, like many of his comrades, had taken to making postcards from the cardboard MRI (meals ready to eat) ration containers.
In contrast, McNirlan spoke to her son on board the Ark Royal by phone a few days ago.
“I just said, ‘Son, are you all right, love? and he said, ‘Mum, I love you.’ I told him, ‘We’re thinking about you every minute,’ and he said, ‘I know.’ He told me everything would be all right.”

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese