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Seabees bound for home from Iraq look forward to love and hot showers

CAMP WOLVERINE, Kuwait—Many troops liken their existence in Iraq to the movie "Groundhog Day," where the character wakes up each morning to relive the same day.

For the 200 Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 the movie finally is coming to a close. As they waited for the flight that would get them home on Saturday, they wondered a little solemnly about what's gone on in the world they are returning to: the birthdays and anniversaries missed; the movies; the children born and bigger; all the loved ones.

Reunions are not all upbeat, they know. There's a widespread belief among troops that absence strengthens good relationships and makes bad ones worse. There's also an awareness that they've been in a place where rank defines relationships, not love, the force that works at home. Briefers here remind them that rebuilding relationships takes patience. The same goes for re-establishing their household routines.

Steelworker First Class Michael Dolde, 27, of St. Louis, Mo., will have to come up with new routines. He has twins now, born during his eight-month deployment.

"I got to come back and see them born," said Dolde, who is anxious to get back and help his struggling wife. "I want to take some of the burden off her because I know it's really hard."

Engineering Aide Third Class Elvis Torres, 31, of Diboll, Texas, is a lot calmer. Married since 1999, he's returning from his fourth deployment.

The big difference—"not having to get up as early or work as late"—is no sweat, he said. "But I'll have to start paying bills again and doing chores."

Many Seabees said they have understanding spouses.

"My wife's a military brat, so she's been used to this all her life," said Storekeeper First Class Troy Moore, 39, of New Orleans.

Moore missed the birthdays of his 5-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. To make up for it, the family plans a big, double birthday party with lots of relatives. It'll be a welcome home for Moore, too.

Would-be groom David Pillet, 21, of Middletown, N.Y., a Builder Third Class, is a bit stressed. He and his fiancee plan to marry May 8, a date moved three times so far.

"We're just looking to pick up where we left off," said Pillet.

His fiancee came to Spain for a month before Pillet's unit deployed to Iraq, and he was able to return to the United States for two weeks, so it wasn't a cold turkey separation.

"Quite a few Seabees are getting married," Pillet said, after discovering as he did how hard it was to leave lovers behind for months.

One Seabee, who asked not to be identified, said his rocky marriage had deteriorated while he was gone.

"We couldn't sit down and talk about things," he said. "I don't know if I'm going back to a salvageable marriage or not."

The Seabee doesn't know what to do next with his wife, but is anxious to see his son and his relatives.

Builder Third Class Garnett Whitmire, 22, of Kansas City, Mo., plans to make up for lost time with his fiancee by taking her out a lot. He's also eager for simple pleasures.

"I'm ready sleep in a bed, not on a cot," he said. "I'm ready to take a shower and know there'll be hot water."


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.