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Crash Christmas : Desert Shield Duty Call Means Santa Comes Early to One Couple’s Home

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Claus made his first delivery in Southern California this weekend. And if you don’t believe it, just ask 3-year-old Tabetha Thomas and her sister, 2-year-old Tiffany.

“There he is!” cried Tabetha, perched atop a living room couch, her nose pressed against a cold windowpane Friday evening. Her eyes scanned the starlit sky where she was convinced she saw the jolly old elf himself and his reindeer pulling away from her grandmother’s big yellow house. Moments later, she and her sister were on the floor tearing through ribbons, wrapping paper and boxes to find play sets featuring Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters.

Although too young to understand, Tabetha and Tracy have Saddam Hussein to thank for Christmas’ early arrival this year. Today, their parents, Lance Cpl. Tracy Thomas and Cpl. Adrienne Thomas, report to their Los Alamitos Marine reserve company for service in Operation Desert Shield.

The Thomases’ unit, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, was notified Nov. 30 that it was being tapped for service, and last week the family rushed to prepare for an unexpected departure and an early Christmas celebration with their children, whom they might not see again for at least six months.

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“We were hoping that we would be called after Christmas,” 25-year-old Tracy Thomas said while watching Tiffany fumble with her new MickeyTown Fire Truck Playset. “But this is it. We wanted someone to be here for them at Christmas.”

Karen Seward, Tracy Thomas’ mother, said family members pitched in during the hectic week to convert her home into something worthy of a holiday greeting card.

A shapely fir tree stood tall and decorated in the living room; a row of red and white stockings hung from the fireplace; garland and ribbon were draped along the banisters and the aroma of a holiday meal--Tracy’s favorite, lasagna--wafted from the kitchen.

About the only thing missing, Adrienne Thomas said, is that “we usually have time to buy more stuff.”

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Adrienne, the only woman in the 125-member Marine rifle company, said she cried after being notified that the company was being mobilized.

“It’s been really, really hectic,” she said. “I’ve been trying to spend time with my daughters. I’ve told them (that we will be leaving), but my 3-year-old keeps asking, ‘Why? Why?’

“Six months is a long time to spend away from my children. I hope they don’t forget me.”

The Thomases’ unit will first be transported to Camp Pendleton for an undetermined period of training. From there, the company will ship out to Okinawa, Japan, where Tracy Thomas speculated the company would help replace another Marine unit that has been called to duty in the Persian Gulf.

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The couple said they have been keeping close track of the events in the Middle East since the start of troop deployments, partly because Tracy Thomas’ brother, Marine Sgt. James W. Thomas Jr., was among the first to be shipped out.

More recently, they have listened to Hussein’s announcement concerning the release of all hostages, including those from the United States.

“We’re still going,” Tracy Thomas said. “It doesn’t change much.”

“The issue is Kuwait, not the hostages,” Adrienne Thomas said. “At least they (the hostages) will be home with their families.”

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Until their return, the couple’s children will be staying with Seward.

“Hopefully, my mother-in-law will write a lot of letters,” Adrienne Thomas said. “I never thought this would happen.”

Still, the young parents say they are happy that they at least will be together on active duty, when it is expected that Adrienne Thomas will continue her duties keeping track of the company’s personnel records.

In fact, the Thomases have the Marine Corps to thank, at least partially, for their first meeting while reservists at Los Alamitos.

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“He just walked in one day,” she said, recalling the occasion about five years ago. “I tell him he’s lucky that out of all those guys, I married him.”


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