'The way back to Fort Bragg is through Kuwait' WAR IN THE GULF


FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Outside the Smoke Bomb Hill Chapel on this deserted army post yesterday, military wives hugged one another and cheered themselves with this verse from "A GI Family's Prayer:"

"On land and sand and sea and air, I back my soldier with this prayer. No matter how far he's forced to roam, just bring, I pray, my GI home."

Across the nation, it was a day of prayer and patriotism -- the first full day of the allied forces' ground assault.

Everywhere, the talk was of the land war.

"It's like the husbands say: The way back to Fort Bragg is through Kuwait," said one Army wife. "I just want them to do their job and come on home. I want them all home, not just mine. I want them all home."

More than 30,000 troops from Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne Division, are in Operation Desert Storm, and yesterday, many of their families flocked to their churches for comfort -- and encouragement.

The deployment from this gung-ho community has taken the soldiers -- and the chaplains, too.

"It is your faith that will sustain you," Lt. Carlton Fisher Jr., an Army reservist chaplain from Georgia, told Protestant parishioners at Smoke Bomb Hill Chapel after leading the congregation of mostly women and children in a rousing rendition of "God Bless America."

Delivering a similar message to Roman Catholic worshipers at Faith Community Chapel, Col. Thomas E. Berberich, the head chaplain of the Connecticut National Guard, said: "After the suffering, after the pain, after the battle, there will be joy for us. I hope when I greet you at Mass again soon, the little ones will come in the arms of their fathers."

Clearly, 15-year-old Michele Easley was missing her father yesterday. Sgt. 1st Class Stanley Easley is attached to the 82nd Airborne, a paratrooper outfit.

Fort Bragg families assume that the 82nd will be critically involved in the land assault.

Yesterday, Michele could only wonder: "Where is my dad? I'm real worried. I don't want anything to happen to my dad."

At the Operation Desert Storm family assistance center in neighboring Fayetteville, families gathered around television sets for news updates on the war.

Overall, they were heartened by early reports of light casualties and battleground successes.

Several wives and mothers described a calm that had settled over them, a feeling many preferred to the wild uncertainty that dominated their emotions during the last-minute diplomatic maneuvers that preceded the ground assault.

"There's a calmness now," said Sarah Garza, whose husband, Sgt. Paul Garza, has been in Saudi Arabia since October.

"As soon as I heard it had begun, I felt this sense of relief. Now, I know it will be over soon."

Added 39-year-old Lynette Pate, whose 20-year-old son is in the gulf, "The calm has come. I just want it to be quick."

Thirty-one-year-old Tamara Kent actually received a telephone call yesterday from her husband, Sgt. 1st Class James Kent, telling her, "I'm fine. Don't watch the news. I'll be home soon."

Mrs. Kent, shopping yesterday with a friend, said, "I can't sit and wait for the Army to come knocking on my door, telling me that the worst has happened. Everybody knew this was going to happen. At least, now, the waiting is over."

The waiting has been the hardest part for 22-year-old Jackie Minitrez.

"I guess more than anything there is relief that the waiting is over," said Mrs. Minitrez, whose husband is a paratrooper.

"I know it seems hard on us. But it's harder on them."

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