SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AND THE CRISIS IN THE PERSIAN GULF : Families of the Military Close Ranks : Fellowship: A support group that includes the loved ones of personnel sent to Saudi Arabia meets to share stories, pictures and information.


Little Latisha Brewer was born on a Tuesday night almost four weeks ago, seven hours after her father, a Marine Corps E-4 based at El Toro, shipped out to Saudi Arabia.

In fact, a week and a half would go by before Torrence Brewer even knew he had a daughter. In that first phone call he was allowed to make to his wife, Jackie, since he had left for Operation Desert Shield, he learned that his baby was born through a Cesarean section.

On Sunday, Jackie Brewer spoke of coping while her husband is in the desert.

"It's hard," she said. "The days, you can find things to take up your time. It's the nights. And things happen without him. Like the first time that she sucked her thumb, he wasn't there. He's missing a lot. And it's not fair."

Jackie Brewer sat at a round table decorated with red, white and blue carnations, cradling her baby, surrounded by about 70 others gathered for the first meeting of a new support group for families of military personnel sent to Saudi Arabia. Some of them wore pictures of their sons or boyfriends pinned to their lapels. Others brought letters from them, or stories to tell.

The group was the idea of Kathy Collier of Buena Park, whose son Darrin, an Army private stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C., went to Saudi Arabia on Aug. 11. The large turnout at the meeting, Kathy Collier said, demonstrated the need that military families have to share stories and information with each other--and also to talk of their fears and concerns.

"It's especially hard on the families whose loved ones have just left in the last two or three days," she said. "For weeks they have been hearing about this, knowing that they could be sent. All of a sudden, when it happens, and you get that phone call to tell you goodby, what do you do? I had a phone call from one woman whose husband was just sent off, and she said to me, 'I feel like I'm alone in this.' "

They are not alone, she said, and together they can talk about how the political tensions half a world away have touched their lives.

"We realized that our world situation had changed, and it involved our son Darrin," she said. "We've come together to share our concerns, our anxieties about what is going on in the gulf and with our loved ones."

While those at Crescent Southern Baptist Church talked about family members who have gone to the Middle East, almost 200 Palestinians gathered at Fountain Valley's Mile Square Regional Park for a cultural festival.

But amid the balloons, the folkloric dancing, the native food and the sounds of Arabic music, the talk at the park also was about the crisis in the Persian Gulf.

"We have a very deep concern for what is happening in Kuwait," said Riyad Shalabi, a doctoral student at Cal State Long Beach, who lives in Huntington Beach.

Palestinians, whose nation is locked in a battle with Israel to establish their own homeland, have much at stake in the Persian Gulf crisis. While most of the Arab leaders have condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat continues to support Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, although he has stopped short of condoning the invasion of Kuwait. Many Palestinians here say they also do not approve of the U.S. intervention in the current crisis.

"We're against the occupation of any country by any government," Shalabi said. "We'd like to see no intervention by the United States. This is an internal Arab conflict that can be resolved by Arabs themselves."

At the Crescent Southern Baptist Church, the pastor, John Jackson, talked to that gathering about how their loved ones were also now caught in the Arab conflict.

"I pray, more than anything else, that you bring a cessation of the possibility of hostility, that you help work it out, that you remove this pride problem of this dictator, that he returns Kuwait to its rightful leaders," Jackson said.

And as he and others spoke, Brewer held her baby close.

"When I told my husband about Latisha, he cried, and said I love you, and he said to give the baby a kiss for him," Brewer said, her eyes tearing. A former Marine herself, Brewer, 21, said she met her husband when they were both stationed at Parris Island, S.C.

At another table, Claudia Nessary clutched a packet of 13 letters tied with a yellow ribbon. A photo of her husband, H.R. Nessary, a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, sat in front of her.

Nessary, who lives in La Habra, wore a yellow ribbon in her hair. She said she writes letters to her husband three or four times a day.

In his letters, he complained of how long it was taking for the enlisted personnel to get their mail and said he got 20 of her letters in one day.

"Thanks for all your letters and your support that you have been giving me," he wrote her in one letter. "Sweetheart, you don't know how much all these letters mean to me in these crucial times."

And in another letter, he told her: "Baby, I am praying every day that I can make it home as soon as possible."

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