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Soldier moms spend Mother's Day far from home

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Last Mother's Day, Walteria Famble's three kids brought her breakfast in bed—burnt toast and microwaved cereal.

The food was awful, but she said she'd gladly trade it in for the Army rations she'll be having today.

"It was such a sweet gesture, and I'll probably be thinking of that breakfast tomorrow morning," Famble, a 24-year-old U.S. Army specialist from Atlanta, Ga., said Saturday.

Famble is one of the mother-warriors from the Army's 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division still serving in Iraq, one of those who witnessed the combat deaths of the sons of other mothers, and one of those who say they are reaching deep for inspiration and understanding on a Mother's Day far from home.

"It's going to be lonely out here," said 3rd Brigade Spc. Laura Brown, 24, of Enterprise, Ala., whose son celebrated his first birthday March 1. "But I realize I'm doing the kids over here a favor. I'm giving them a chance to grow up with some freedoms."

Brown and others in the brigade are facing their second straight Mother's Day away from their children. A few were in Korea this time last year. Others were on a six-month training deployment in Kuwait. The brigade has spent 11 of the past 14 months in Southwest Asia.

They don't question their duties as soldiers, but they do view warfare through the eyes of a mother.

"It's difficult because everybody is somebody's child," said 26-year-old Spc. Misty McClendon, who has a 7-year-old child back in Columbus, Ga. "And in order to get home to my child, we have to hurt other people's children."

"Before I was a mother, I would've looked at them as only the enemy," Brown said. "Now I look at them as somebody's son. I have that maternal instinct, and out here I'm left with empty arms."

Some see their Army work as an extension of their chores as a mother.

"Being a soldier and a mother, in ways, is kind of the same," said Sgt. Charlotte Chappell, 28, of Roanoke, Ala., mother of a 2-year-old girl. "You have to take care of soldiers like you do kids, making sure they're in line in the morning and making sure they're ready for the day."

But they all talk about a certain inspiration that comes with motherhood.

Before she could try out for the high school track team, Famble, then in 9th grade, was required to have a physical examination. The physician shocked the 14-year-old by telling her she was pregnant.

Famble gave birth to Tamiya and raised her through high school, waking up late nights, changing diapers and feeding her daughter. Even so, she went on to graduate with a 3.8 grade point average. She gave birth to twins four years ago.

Tragedy struck in January, two weeks after she deployed for war, when Tamiya, now 10, was critically injured in a car crash. Famble's brother, who was driving, died in the crash. Famble returned home briefly and was told her daughter would have to learn to walk again.

"She has been an inspiration to me," she said. "She hasn't been depressed about it. She hasn't complained. How can I complain? You just have to have a lot of strength to be out here."


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

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