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Soldier's thoughts focus on family

CAMP MAINE, Kuwait—A 48-hour deadline for war isn't like a two-minute warning in football. But on Tuesday, Sgt. Maj. Frank Tuggle had football on his mind.

Sitting in his tent in the remote desert of Kuwait, on the precipice of war with Iraq, Tuggle recalled with soft eyes seemingly alien to a hardened, 22-year Army veteran the day last year that his brother's Atlanta Falcons jersey, No. 58, was retired.

Linebacker Jesse Tuggle had rented a bus to take 35 family members to the Georgia Dome for the ceremony. En route, he stood and reminded the family that Frank, his oldest brother, would be leaving for the Persian Gulf four days later, the day after Christmas.

"He talked about me going and said, `We all want to say, we love you,''' the sergeant major recalled. "It was his spotlight, but he directed some of that spotlight on me, and said that I was a hero.

"He was saying that what I was doing was not a game like the one he had been playing for 14 seasons; it was more than a game. It meant a lot."

With war probably just hours away, Tuggle's thoughts were on his family, his three brothers and his two sisters, who grew up close in Griffin, Ga., and his wife and three children.

"Of all of us crossing that berm, all of us won't come back, and that's a fact," said the 39-year-old veteran of the first Persian Gulf War. "It's not a game, and the family knows that."

Tuggle remembered Jesse waiting for him at the airport when he returned from the last Gulf War. "He was standing there holding a flag. I guarantee, when I return again he'll be right there holding a flag."

And then, he said, they'll go fishing, something they'd planned to do before he got the call to deploy. "The Falcons gave him an 18-foot boat for retirement, and he promised me that we'd go out fishing. I'm going to take him up on that promise."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-TUGGLE